Family drama….we all have it. Unfortunately, the holiday season seems to make it worse. Often, you and your troublesome loved one want the same thing- a satisfying relationship. However, there are times that we simply disagree. What can we do about it?
1. Be honest with one another. “Giving in” and agreeing to do something that is not acceptable to you only makes the relationship more strained. Conversely, always insisting on things being “your way” is likely to make the other person miserable and less inclined to want to spend time with you. Compromise is key. If you can’t/aren’t willing to compromise, you may lose the relationship. Is that worth it to you?
2. Realize that your adult children have choices….as do you. Neither party, however, is free from the consequences of that choice. Your holiday celebrations do not have to include one another. However, that also means that you do not receive the benefits of the relationship. It is okay to love from a distance.
3. Set appropriate boundaries and stick to them. More difficult relationships almost always require “toddler treatment.” What is “toddler treatment?” It is being very rigid with rules/agreements and making no exceptions. Did you agree to meet at 3pm? Then, “No, I’m sorry, we cannot change the time to 7:30 (or 3:30…or whatever time). We will need to reschedule.” This seems harsh, but it reinforces the idea that you value the agreement and you will do what you say you will do. It also eliminates the possibility of being manipulated. Many toxic individuals get into a cycle of “What will you do for me?” This helps to break that cycle. Just as with a toddler, as the toddler becomes more mature, rigidity is not as paramount. This rigidity can also be relaxed as the relationship becomes more stable.
4. In the case of chronic relationship issues, the issues will continue unless the cycle is broken. As long as everyone is behaving the same, and the responses are the same, nothing changes. This can be exhausting. However, keep in mind that SOMETHING has to change in order to get a different result.
5. Avoid statements such as “you always” or “you never.” These types of statements tend put the other person on the defensive. A good substitute is, “When you ___________, I feel ____________.”
6. In the case of in-laws, do not make your loved one “defend” the other party. Focus on the relationship between the two of you. Spouses, despite your feelings about your in-laws, they did something right. They raised the person you love. Parents/In-laws, the choice of who your child chose to commit to was not yours. Trust that you raised your adult child to make good decisions. Often, the one who requires someone to “choose sides” loses. Too often, it is the loss of the relationship. If an adult child has to defend his/her spouse, they will likely choose to spend less time with you (or dread time that they do choose to spend with you). If an adult child has to defend a parent, as a spouse, you will eventually become the bad guy. Your spouse cannot control their parents. There is no need to nag them constantly. This gives your in-laws significant power in YOUR relationship. Despite how wrong you feel your in-law is, some of the characteristics that your spouse possess (and that you love) came from that parent. Healthy, committed relationships focus on the new, smaller unit while still considering the needs and the desires of the unit of origin.
7. Imagine the person that you love the most in this world. Is it okay for that person to be treated the way you are being treated? If not, then it’s NOT okay for you to be treated that way either. However, YOU are the only person that can stop the maltreatment. Deal with it or get away from it!
8. When confrontation happens, let the dust settle before you begin to address the issues. Speaking out in anger often makes us say things we don’t mean. Although we can apologize, those things aren’t likely forgotten. I would suggest addressing the issues in a public place-such as a restaurant, maybe over lunch/dinner/coffee. We are less likely to raise our voices in public and the time spent working on an issue is limited to the duration of lunch/dinner/coffee. If your loved one chooses to make a scene, that is THEIR issue, not YOURS. Stand up, tell your loved one that you are not going to stay in the situation because it is embarrassing, pay your bill, and leave.
9. Always keep your long term goal in mind. If your goal is to have a relationship, it may take significant work. If the toxic person cannot stop being toxic, it may be time to walk away and love from a distance. It may be best to only communicate in writing, or perhaps not at all.
10. Finally, seek professional help. Sometimes, families need therapy as a unit. The therapist can serve as a mediator to help set boundaries and work through conflicts.