Photo credit: Ralf Weiser
Family: Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Or can you? Holidays, birthdays, christenings, weddings, and other celebrations are one of the most stressful events. Why? Because this involves family and many a times we do not get along for a myriad of reasons.
I have two examples of that. The day of my bachelor’s party my closest relative managed to forget to rent the van that was supposed to take us to the event. In fact he also forgot to invite a lot of people. In the end the few people that were left did not need a van anymore and we just drove to the event in one car.
My wedding day was equally interesting. Coming from church and on the way to the reception the limo driver alerted my bride and I to the fact that the car behind us had suddenly stopped and was no longer following us. That was my dad-in-law who stopped there at the side of the road. Being a good fire cop, he had stopped at a site of a minor fender bender to direct traffic – in his tux. Parked right behind him was his 80 plus year old uncle in his tug boat size Caddy who did not know the way to the reception. We could not go on either and were stuck in our limo until the little accident scene had cleared up.
In hind sight, both events are actually rather funny. I did not think so at the time of the events. My wife was ready to shoot our close relatives to the moon. And that is also what I am writing about today: You may choose to not speak with them, or divorce them, but they will always be family. But how do you deal with the stress that we cause each other?
Part of the reason why the stress exists is because of the perceived or real expectations and assumptions. The other main component is candor, or the lack thereof, that is needed to keep any relationship genuinely and sincerely real. Often we do not say anything because we do not want to offend or burn future bridges.
There are three ways how you can choose to deal with this delicate situation:
- Talk about it. Yes, that is correct. Open dialog, when done correctly, can easily prevent major long term damage to family relationships. Key is to have taken a deep breath and not do this while you are emotional. Also, doing this in a timely fashion is key to not letting things fester too long. Key to this is not to speak when you are angry. Give yourself some time to just think of the facts rather than allowing your feelings getting in your way.
- Write about it. It is not necessarily my cup of tea, but writing a letter or e-mail (text?) can also help you get to resolving family issues. The advantage is that when you write about your challenge you typically reach a deeper understanding yourself.
Thinking it through and finding a way to convey your key points and perhaps a request takes a bit of prep work. That is also the disadvantage. The written word, no matter how well you think you captured it, is still the most misunderstood and misinterpreting thing on the planet.
- Ignore it. Last but not least, you have the choice to blissfully ignore any of it. I know of people that are so good at mentally sweeping this old baggage under the rug that they cannot see the white elephant in the room even on the best of days. Do not sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff. Even I can get that. There are times when this strategy does work. It is the small things that often get put under said rug. Problems arise when even a Dyson vacuum can no longer pick up the mess that got left behind there. What I mean is that eventually the smaller issues will accumulate and turn into a big enough issue that can no longer go on ignored. Now the situation may end up worse because the problem is too complex to unwind even with the best of intentions and open dialog.
Do not forget that family members are going to be there for you even when everyone else has abandoned you. Family ties run deep. Sometimes, you cannot ignore the issues that have piled up and you will need to choose between the three above mentioned strategies. Choose wisely, because your mental health relies on how you handle family challenges. Family is all you have got when bad goes to worth. Make every effort saving these relationships.