7 Rules for Healthy Adult Relationships with Your Family
You can’t choose your family, but the benefits of healthy family relationships are significant enough to make it well worth the work it takes to maintain them. Here's how to do it.
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They say that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.
And if you go from a large family where everyone’s a little different from one another, then you’ll understand exactly what the saying is getting at. While everything might have been fun and games -- even, ultimately, the arguments -- when you were younger, things get a little more complex when you’re adults.
You have a lot on your plate, they have a lot on their plate, and it’s not always easy to stay on the same page. There are things you can do, however, to make things more straightforward.
It's also very challenging to make the transition from being a kid in a family to being an adult with family relationships. All the roles have to settle a change, but there's no one point in time at which they magically do so. You have to slowly and painstakingly redraw boundaries as your life (and the lives of your family members) evolve.
I present to you my top tips (hard fought) in terms of how to have healthy “adult” relationships with your family.
Rule #1: Remember Everyone’s Different
Most people are kind of the same when they’re younger.
Well, they’re not the same, but their differences are less pronounced. And this seems even more true when you were the one looking at things through your “kid glasses”. There’s nothing likeRealizing a person you've known all your life is a certain way and you just didn't notice it, Whether good or bad. I've definitely had moments where I realized certain people had a prominent idiosyncrasy (or seven) I hadn't even been aware of, due to childlike naivety.
I have had other relatives where I realized that they were freaking saint and I hadn't noticed.
Either way, when you reach full-blown adulthood, however, there’s no place to hide. The differences between people become unavoidable. And sometimes, lifestyles clash, or your siblings do things -- or live their life -- in a way that frustrates.
However, it’s important to remember that everyone’s different.
How they live is unlikely to be better or worse than how you live, just different. Even if it’s not how you would choose to live, accept your relatives. Die-hard Obama fans can break bread with Trump supporters without the dinner table catching on fire.
It’s not like they’re going to come around to your way of living anyway.
Rule #2: Put the Time In
There’s not a relationship in the world that can run on autopilot.
If you want to things healthy -- or at least on the path towards health -- then you need to make a little bit of effort from time to time. Even if your relatives aren’t your favorite people in the world, it’s still important to try.
If you don’t try, then you might end up regretting it later on in life. I personally have found that family members have become more and more important the older I get. Friends come and go (with the exception of the select few that really become part of the tribe), but family is a constant.
This could involve making a weekly phone call, visiting home for Christmas and other big events, or just an all-around feeling of being present in family life. One of my female cousins and I realized that our last two phone calls had been to inform the other that we were pregnant and how we immediately knew what it was about when we saw the caller id because for everything else we just text.
Whatever the relationship, make that extra effort to connect. You won’t regret it.
Rule #3: Be There During Stressful Moments
Life is a series of ups and downs.
Everyone will want to be your friend when you’re on top of the world, but how many will be there when you’re in the pits? For many people, there will be just a couple of friends, but for most of us the family is what’s really going to be there for you when things hit the fan.
Your relatives might not be your go-to option when you want to have a fun, stress-free evening, but they’ll be the ones who offer help when you need it. And so you should offer help to them, too.
If a relative comes to you with a problem, then provide support. They’d do the same for you, and your generosity won’t be unnoticed.
Rule #4: Know When to Recruit Professionals
Of course, there are some stressful moments that don’t target one relative, but all of them. Take the death of a family member, for instance. While this has terrific power to unite people, there’s also a chance that it can create divisions, too, especially when it comes to matters relating to the deceased’s will.
Instead of trying to figure out complex matters among yourselves, look at giving the responsibility to the professionals. In this example, a probate law firm will be able to help with the process and help to keep any potential problems among siblings at bay.
By a certain age, you’ll know what you’re able to discuss as a family, and which might cause issues: make sure you’re taking the problem-free route.
Rule #5: Voice Your Issues
Of course, the desire to have a peaceful and agreeable relationship with your relatives shouldn’t mean that you have to stay silent about the things that are bothering you.
Resentment can grow if you don’t speak up when someone routinely does something that annoys you. This one takes a measure of rationality and an uncomfortable amount of backbone necessary to defend your boundaries, but you want healthy relationships, not just relationships.
Working through the discomfort of setting up rules for how you can and cannot be treated will definitely be uncomfortable when it has to be done. No doubt about it. But it’s important to create relationships that benefit you. Weeding out the toxins every once in while is necessary in any relationship, familial or not.
It can be a little bit uncomfortable to talk through things like this, but it is worth it in the long-run.
Rule #6: Let Go Of The Past
Some people find it difficult to have relationships with their siblings as adults because they’re forever recalling an unhappy past.
While you can’t undo your childhood, you can change the way you see it, and learn to move on. It can be an emotionally taxing journey, but one that’ll be worth it when you have a happy, prosperous family relationship when you’re older.
Figure out which issues need discussion (see Rule #5) and then find a way to let the rest go. If you really can’t let it go, talk about it until you can.
Rule #7: The Greater Good
Finally, always keep in mind that you can’t always have your own way when it comes to family-life. You will have to make compromises in one way or another (even though you should never sacrifice anything key to your core being).
Overall, I find the best rule is just be the type of relative you would want to have.
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About the Author
Founder | Contributor
Liz (or Dr. Mommy, as her toddler started calling her after learning what a PhD was) is the happily sleep-deprived mom of a baby boy (and professional raccoon noise impersonator), a sparkle-clad toddlernado, a teenage stepdaughter, the canine embodiments of Pinky and The Brain, and a rabbit of unusual size. During nights and naptimes, she uses her PhD in business psychology as an author, speaker, and consultant. She also serves as an executive and principal for three companies, two of which she co-founded with her very patient (and equally exhausted) husband.
My Motto: All I can control is how hard I work.
Motto: All I can control is how hard I work.
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