When you put a diverse group of people together who didn’t choose to be together in a confined location, for a specific amount of time, and add past offenses and power struggles, you have the makings of the perfect family reunion. Families fight and have conflict, and mending those hurt feelings are a core competency that every family needs to learn how to do.
Studio 5 Relationship Coach Matt Townsend shares five steps to let the healing begin.
Show Loyalty…Don’t Gang Up
When divisions in family come up, make sure that you don’t exacerbate them by taking sides in the arguments. Many times gangs can do much more damage than individuals can. It’s natural to take sides with others in order to build coalitions that are stronger and more powerful. The downside in a family setting however is that it makes it harder to heal wounds and for the offenders to feel safe enough to come back to the fold. In the end, we can still show loyalty to all members of the family, even when we don’t agree with them. This can be done by saying, “I can see how you both feel and I really want to get this behind us. By being a loyal member of the family means we don’t ever say anything behind each other’s backs that we wouldn’t say to their face. It also means that we don’t perpetuate gossip or rumors about each other, and we don’t discuss other family members when they are not present.
Stay in the Game
Many times when we have been offended or hurt by a family member, we tend to remove ourselves from situations where the offending member might be. By removing ourselves from a basketball game just because we suffered a hard foul doesn’t mean we’re going to handle the next foul any better. At some point, the longer we are out of the game, the more our confidence may take a hit, our timing and rhythm will suffer, and the confidence of other team members may wane. So, instead of removing yourself from the family gatherings when offended, keep attending. Stay positive and happy, be the healthy person you are. By “staying in” the family, instead of “jumping out”, you communicate a lot to the people around you. Your presence shows that that family matters more than the offenses. You also stay in the space where the trouble occurred, which increases the likelihood that you’ll be able to improve the situation. The basic rule that governs this principle is that you can’t improve a relationship you’re not around. By staying in the flow of family, more opportunities will present themselves to fix or address the situations that cause your tension. You will also increase your endurance and stamina to handle the people that exhaust you. Even though it might feel uncomfortable and tempting to not attend certain family functions, don’t do it. Eventually you’ll have a chance to either say something or to give the other person a chance to fix the problem they created.
Give The Benefit of the Doubt
If there is one thing that your family members deserve, it’s to get the benefit of the doubt. There are good reasons why people do or say stupid things and that is just as true with your family as anyone else. You may notice however that it is easier to give your co-workers the benefit of the doubt than it is some of your extended family members. One reason it is harder is because you’ve been around your family members longer than your co-workers. You also created a lot of scripts about your brother and sisters when you were younger and more immature, that you are still trying to sort through. Family relationships are hard because we take our experiences from past negative interactions, like fighting over a bathroom as young kids, and apply those negative feelings to our modern day interactions. One way to make sure you have given your family member the benefit of the doubt is to ask yourself, “What would ever cause me to treat my family members the way they just treated me?” Look deeply for reasons why your family members got mad or reactive and use that insight to change your feelings about them. By giving others the benefit of the doubt, you actually give yourself more insight and understanding to work with and feel better about people who have offended you.
Focus on Being A Family, Not Being Right
To be in a family doesn’t mean we all have to be in agreement. Families can be just as diverse as companies and communities, and the mere fact that we share a bloodline doesn’t necessarily mean we share the same political views or etiquette. What makes our family different from every other entity we may belong to is the potential it has to let us know we are always loved and accepted unconditionally. The number one killer of the unity of family is selfishness, when one family member becomes more focused on their personal needs over the needs of the others. Being a member of a family is hard and demands a delicate balance of taking care of yourself and supporting the others in the family. Selfishness in our families has us focusing more on our own personal rights and needs, valuing them more than the the rights and needs of the whole family. Selfishness turns our discussions into debates in order to be right, instead of dialogues where mutual understanding is the goal. To mend a past argument, you must be willing to choose the spirit of cooperation over competition, from selfishness to selflessness.
When trying to mend past arguments, focus on building family, not on being right. Building family means that sometimes you just “agree to disagree, agreeably!” It also might mean that you simply let some things go and choose to give your family members the benefit of the doubt. In the end, as adults, we can be a member of a family and still know that at the end of the day we’re going to leave the family party and go home to our own lives again.
Don’t Assume Talking Is The Only Way To Communicate
Everybody heals past problems differently. Some will want to talk their way back to health, while others will serve their way back. Some will write letters and some will just know by how they feel about each other. In order to mend the past hurts, you first need to understand the way in which your family members want to heal. Would they prefer to have you take them out for dessert and talk things out or does that seem way too formal? Perhaps a simple email or letter of apology might help, or an invitation to a family event. Many people don’t heal their issues by talking, so don’t always assume that you’re going to have to talk in order to heal. Those who have to talk to heal their pains can be seen as very intimidating for others who would rather just send an email. The true spirit of family means that we can feel safe and respected by the people we love. It also means that eventually we’re going to find some method to communicate and apologize.
Matt is offering a special class coming up.
REAL Communication…Real Results
Couple’s Communication Class
9:00 to 3:00pm
August 24, 2013
For more information, visit