photo by Cottonbro for Pexels
by Andrea M. Darcy
It’s that time of year again when we are going to be surrounded by family, for better or worse. How can we get along with family this year and stop fighting? And yes, even get along with the in-laws?
How to get along with family
The strange thing about getting along with family is that it can often involve less effort, not more.
See if any of the following might be just what you need to not only have more energy this festive season, but to have less battles.
1. Give up the need to be seen and embraced for who you now are.
Here’s the thing with family and extended family.
The very people who should know us best and we expect to understand us the most? Also see us through more filters than anyone else we meet as an adult.
They see us through the filter of all the things we lived through together, from childhood onwards. And all the things we said and did across decades. Then also the filter of their own sense of perceived failure as the family member they are (mother, father, older sister, etc).
As for in-laws, they see us through the filter of an ideal they wanted for their son or daughter, and all the things they feel they didn’t succeed at they are projecting onto said child.
And yet here we are, expecting family to see us clearly, to recognise the person we are now, the fully formed adult we worked so hard to be. Not realising how big of an ask this is. And also not recognising that we are probably less ourselves around family in any case.
What if you just stopped expecting anyone to see you are the person you now are? To notice your strengths, or how you’ve changed? What if you just for this once let them think what they wanted and just go on with the day? How much energy would that save you? Is it worth giving this a try this year?
2. Write out all your expectations and then do this….
Lowering our expectations is the easiest way to stop fighting with family and get along with in-laws. It’s not about expecting too little, it’s about saving your time and energy for self-care and having more peace of mind.
Because at the end of the day, you can’t change anyone else anyway. You just thought you could, that having expectations of others would magically encourage them to live up to them. How has that worked so far?
photo by August de Richelieu for Pexels
And then there are the expectations you have of yourself. That leave you edgy every time you fail to live up to them. You say you’ll not react when your mother treats you like a child, and there you are, whining. Then picking a fight to displace your anger at yourself.
Write out everything you deep down expect, even if as you write it you realise it’s very unrealistic or embarrassing. Get it all on paper. Then cross out all but a maximum of three things or less you will expect this year from family. And three or less you’ll expect from yourself.
3. Choose your battles.
Family conflict is perhaps one of the most long-standing and entrenched sort of personal warfare out there. It can be over something that, were it a disagreement with a friend, would have meant we long ago ended the relationship. But as it’s family, we feel stuck (and in the end, family relationships are shown to be fairly essential for wellbeing, even if we don’t get along).
Acceptance can go a long way when it comes to family. What are the battles you can actually see change around, realistically? What are the conflicts and differences of opinion that you are, quite honestly, very unlikely to see progress on? What would it feel like to just accept that it won’t change?
If you feel yourself gearing up to blowup, try to step back and have a moment to yourself (hiding in the loo is perfectly acceptable) and ask yourself these questions:
- Is this about me needing to prove myself or feel I’m right?
- Would I even need to have this conversation if I truly did not care what they thought?
- Or is really about addressing a real issue that needs to be sorted for us to occupy the same space?
- Is having this blowout really worth how crap I’ll likely then feel for the rest of this day?
- Is there really any chance that fighting about this will make a positive difference?
- What can I do right now to defuse the feeling inside of me? Take a walk, listen to music, play with the kids, a quick visualisation?
4. Keep it one-on-one to stop fighting.
“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances.” Carl Jung
photo by Cottonbro Studio for Pexels
Just because we struggle to see the good in one family member does not mean that other family members like our kids or partner will experience that person in the same way. As Jung pointed out, each cross of two people is like a unique chemistry experiment.
But it can be instinctive to try to ‘get people on our side’. It’s in the way we ‘triangle’ when we talk, bringing in a third person (or more). “Yes well I am sure Mother agrees with me that you are being selfish“. The only thing this generally does is creates a war out of a disagreement. As the more people involved, the bigger the battle.
So one of the easiest ways to get along with family is to not create sides this year. When you disagree with someone, keep it to a one-on-one conversation and don’t mention other people. Or other years or past disagreements for that matter. Keep it to you, them, and the exact issue at hand.
And as for how upset we can get thinking our partner isn’t siding with us? It pays to keep this in mind. A partner can not agree with you or have a different opinion of another family member and still love you and have a good relationship with you.
And your kids will experience a different version of your parent than you do, one that is beneficial. Research shows that relating with grandchildren is good for health and wellbeing.
5. And finally, to get along with family? Stop trying so darn hard.
If we are the person who always ends up in conflict with other family members, it’s often not that we are the one who doesn’t care. It’s generally that we are the one who cares too much.
We want our family to be more connected, to function better, to feel more fulfilling. It’s our disappointment that makes us cranky and leads us to make comments that start conflict.
Sometimes the easiest way to get along with family is to actually just care far less if you do or don’t get along. It’s can be like turning off a pressure cooker. Without the pressure, nothing reaches boiling point in the end.
And then work on the only person you can change…
Ultimately, all of our effort to improve our family will rarely work, ditto for our desire they change their perspective on us. This involves personal growth, and not everyone is willing to grow as a person or seek therapy. Nor can we make anyone else grow or change.
We can only change one person, and that is the person who is looking at you in the mirror.We can change how much we are affected by our family’s choices, how much we let their opinion of us matter, and even how much of our lives we realise it is healthy to share with family in the end.
It can be a long road, and we might need support along the way, such as the help of an unbiased talk therapist who can teach us relating tools. But we can get there. It is entirely possible to one day totally get along with family and be unruffled at family events…even by the quirks of your in-laws.
Harley Therapy connects you with a hand-selected team of some of London’s most highly rated talk therapists for individuals as well as families. Or use our sister site that lists affordable registered therapists across the UK.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and writer and coaches people on designing their therapy journey. From a complicated family, she confirms that she has tried all of these techniques herself and that they do all help! Find her on Instagram @am_darcy