As one of my friends says, ‘they made your buttons, so of course they know how to push them’! And most of the time they don’t even realise that they’re doing it.
For some of us, spending time with family is purest delight. For others it ranges from a little tricky to a complete nightmare. Here are three things that will help you navigate difficult relationships (in fact, all relationships):
1. Don’t expect to be understood. We want those we love to understand us. It’s really nice when people just ‘get’ us where we’re coming from. We somehow feel that it’s necessary for them to get us in order for us to be loved. As the old adage goes – seek first to understand, not to be understood.
2. Don’t expect them to be different from the way they are. Really. You think they ‘should’ be different, act ‘differently’? They are the way they are. Let them be – you can’t control anyone other than yourself. Accept that. Love and respect them as they are. Avoid judging, criticizing or cajoling. As Byron Katie says: “when you argue with reality, you lose. But only 100% of the time”. She also says “If I think you’re my problem, I’m insane”. Enough said!
3. Know what you can change: yourself and to some extent the relationship. You have control over YOU (to some extent – and chances are if you are reading this message you’re interested in developing that further). You can control the way you respond and react. In negotiation, we talk about ‘going to the balcony’. Take a moment, take a breath, pause, maybe even excuse yourself and leave the room so that you can regain your composure a little. You want to be responding not reacting. Do you need to be saying what you’re about to say? You also have some control over the relationship – how you respond is part of that. You can also walk away. But without going that far – you will find, that as you change, the relationship also changes and they cannot but change their responses to you too. It’s a process and it can be quite magical. But be patient!
(Points 2 and 3 are based on a relationship triangle that I end up discussing with almost all of my coaching clients at some point – so important in all interactions).
Let’s be honest, most of this is easier said than done. And most of us regress to a somewhat younger version of ourselves with family. But the more you work at it, the easier it gets. There are always ups and downs – even when you least expect it. So here’s a bit of a worked example of how it went wrong for me – and then how it went right.
My greatest personal achievement is probably being happy with my relationship with my parents. It took a long time to get there and it’s by no means picture perfect but I feel good about it and I did it by working on myself – not by trying to change them.
How I went wrong
In 2015, I spent about 10 days with my mother over Christmas. At the time, I had just begun writing the first version of this piece. One evening we argued which made me question, should I be writing this? Fortunately, I had already started, so as I reflected on the argument, I asked myself “did I put into practice the 3 golden rules”… Darn! … the answer was ‘no’.
As I thought about it, I realised that I really wanted her to understand me. My inner 4-year-old said ‘but it’s really hard and it’s really unfair! She’s being completely unreasonable!’. The Adult in me took a deep breath and allowed the sadness and sense of injustice to pass through me. I was hoping for her to act differently. I really wanted her to understand my point of view. I wanted her to be different. I wanted our relationship to be as fun and easy as it sometimes is. I wanted her to just ‘get’ it.
How I righted it
I went back and talked to her again. This time, I really made an effort to listen to her and understand her and her point of view. Once she knew that I’d understood what she was saying, her perspective, I had another ‘go’ at explaining mine. With no judgement. We had a very deep conversation and in some ways probably understood each other better than we ever had before.
The secret to sticking it out: what most people don’t know
Throughout life and in every conflict situation (trust me, I’m a mediator!) there are rhythms – ebbs and flows – things warm up and then they cool down and then they warm up again. See if you can let that be and trust. Like the tide, the waves roll onto the shore and back again. Enjoy the peaceful moments but don’t hold on to them. You have about as much chance as you would trying to stop the ocean. That little argument with my mum cleared the air. It brought us closer and then we had a great time together.
Last but not least
And finally: be kind. Honesty without compassion is aggression…. And a little humour sometimes goes a long way … but know your audience!
Modified from the original published on the Huffington Post