Family boundaries: how to manage difficult relationships
With traditions and celebrations such as Christmas and Easter, families often spend an extended amount of time together, under one roof. Whether it’s a new personality arriving into the mix, or family dynamics changing as people grow up, managing relationships can often be tricky between trying to please everyone, and remain in a healthy, happy mindset yourself.
One of the most important things to remember is that sometimes you simply can’t please everyone, but you do have to please yourself and take care of the skin you’re in.
Here are six tips to help you manage difficult relationships and make time for your own well-being:
Set healthy boundaries
Setting clear, healthy boundaries that you and your family are comfortable with is the ideal situation to manage difficult relationships. Perhaps you have a younger brother who has behaviour challenges and your parents discuss this with you each night after work. The additional stress of a strained sibling relationship alongside a long day at work can leave you feeling burnt out, irritable and exhausted.
Set aside a time or day that your parents know is appropriate for them to discuss family issues with you and work on ways to manage specific relationships moving forward. You will be in a happier, healthier frame of mind to focus on this subject when you have dedicated time to prepare.
This strategy is particularly effective before certain big events. If you’re attending a family get-together, discuss beforehand with your nearest and dearest what you do and don’t want to talk about with the wider circle. Certain subjects can feel sensitive, such as finances, a breakup, health etc.
Take some time out
If discussions, topics or events get too much for you and you’re uncomfortable, try to step away. Having already set healthy boundaries that you’re comfortable with, this situation can be avoided but is down to each individual.
Uncomfortable conversations, whether intentionally or not, may arise but be confident that you have set expectations and if these aren’t met, it’s acceptable to remove yourself from the situation.
Remember that you are important too and your well-being shouldn’t be compromised by focusing solely on the difficult person or relationship. If you’re anxious about a certain event where relationships may be tense, it’s important to plan your self-care time so you are fully equipped, relaxed and confident to handle the situation, should it arise.
Don’t enlist a scapegoat
When a certain member of the family has challenging behaviour, it can be easy to slip into a comfortable routine of airing your grievances to another member of the family, most commonly the mother (the mother can often feel stuck in the middle, particularly between two children).
To avoid further conflict, change how you communicate with the middle person, perhaps discussing approaches to interacting with the ‘toxic person’ rather than a persistent moan.
Practise positive intentions
Try to ensure that you enter into each encounter with positive intentions and you encourage those thoughts of others. It can be easy to get caught up in the negativity of one person but essentially you can’t change that personality, you can aid and support with positive intentions and then step away.
Unfortunately no matter how positive a person’s outside influences can be, they may still maintain the difficult qualities that upset a family dynamic. It’s important to accept that that is their personality, their attitudes and their perspectives and to appreciate their attitudes but not engage with them.
All relationships, regardless of age, gender, relation and sex will come with their own individual set of complexities. But taking time out, particularly from your family, to manage your own well-being ensures you can not only support yourself, but support the difficult relationship as best you can, without losing yourself to it.
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