One problem I’ve personally struggled with lately is how to deal with difficult or dysfunctional family members. This is so challenging, because we don’t get to choose who our family members are. With friends, if a person turns out to be not who we thought they were, we can just distance ourselves from them or make the decision not to be friends with them. With relatives, it’s not as simple as that. So what to do when family is driving us crazy, disappoints us, or is just not someone we would choose to have in our lives if we were not related to them? How should we decide how to handle these situations? These are complicated questions with answers that are not simple. In my experience, I think it’s wise to consider a few issues when deciding what to do. Start with asking yourself the following questions:Read more...
1. What does the relationship cost me and what does it give me? A simple cost-benefit analysis is helpful in this situation. Do I get any of my needs met in this relationship? What are the potential positives from contact with this person?
2. If I change my expectations of this person, will I be able to get more positives from this relationship? I call this the “should trap”. This is when we tell ourselves, “he/ she should behave this way.” “He/she should not do that!” Whenever we focus on what we can not control, we get upset. There is no way to enjoy any positives if we are focused on the things that will not change in the other person. We are then too focused on what we don’t have control over, frustration, anger, and sadness ensue. So try to change your thoughts to, “even though I don’t like that they do (insert issue), I can not change them or how they do things. I can let that go and focus on (something positive you get from them) instead.
3. Can humor help me in dealing with this person. This is really part of getting out of the “should trap.” Instead of getting so frustrated when your mother-in-law criticizes you for the 27th time during your visit with her, make a bet with your husband about how many times she will be critical. Then laugh to yourself everytime she does it. What you really are doing is EXPECTING WHAT IS LIKELY TO HAPPEN. You can get a little laugh and visits with her become much more entertaining. You’ve gotten out of the “should trap” and had a little fun along the way. Of course, this is a private game. Don’t let her or anyone who could let the cat out of the bag know about this. That would lead to further problems!
If you answered yes to number 2 or 3, try using these techniques and see what it does to the relationship, or at least to your frustration when you are around the person. If it improves things (it will likely require some practice), then maybe the answer to number 1 becomes a little different. Maybe you can find a way to gain more from the relationship as the cost to your own emotions goes down. If not, maybe it’s time to change the boundaries with that individual. You will be surprised what changing your own thoughts about the situation does, though, so don’t give up without giving number 2 and 3 an honest shot. And always remember, no relationship should cost more than you can afford to give.