Family relationships are central in everyone’s lives. Our families shape our ideas, values, lifestyle, behaviors, and how we relate to the world around us. Because of how influential they are, family relationships can be complex and challenging. Everyone’s relationship to family is different, but some common ideas can help each of us think through how we relate to family and navigate any difficulties.
When thinking about family relationships, it’s important to remember that every family is different. Some families are small, others are too big to keep track of, and some may not even follow the traditional systems of biological and marital relations at all. No matter what your family looks like, it’s helpful to think about navigating these relationships and creating a family dynamic that helps everyone connect and communicate better.
Keep in mind that every family is different. Not all of the advice you read in this article or others will apply to you and your situation. Make sure to think critically about any advice you read and decide whether it is helpful to you. Most importantly, trust yourself. Your feelings, instincts, and thoughts are valid, and you can navigate whatever you are going through.
Going the distance
Some families struggle with physical distance, whether it’s a parent traveling frequently, long-distance relationships, or families spreading out as kids grow up. The physical constraints of distance can often cause people to feel estranged or even at odds with one another.
If distance is causing tension in your family relationships, think about what specifically feels like it’s missing. Do you feel like you aren’t able to spend enough time together? Do you miss the everyday interactions that are part of daily routines? Do you feel like you don’t talk to each other as much anymore?
Once you have a deeper understanding of what you may be lacking, try talking to your family members about it. It may be impossible to get rid of some of the constraints of physical distance, but there are often things you can do to improve your relationship and communication. For instance, if you feel like you never see your family member, try planning visits as regularly as possible. You can also plan fun activities together or schedule regular calls that become a part of your daily routine. No matter what you do, communication is always the first step to healthier and happier connections.
Building Deeper Connections
Sometimes, even with the people closest to us, we can get stuck at the surface level. You may find that you only talk about daily activities or routines or that you find yourself unable to speak your mind with your family members. This may come from several causes, such as significant life changes, differing opinions, or past experiences.
Some relationships have to stay at the surface level, whether for physical or emotional safety or because of another person’s unwillingness to be open and understanding. If you want to explore the potential of deepening your family relationships, try thinking of ways you can be authentic in honest in as safe and comfortable ways as possible. Creating a more profound relationship will take time and effort, so it’s a good idea to take it one step at a time.
Making space for everyone
One common problem that families face is feeling restricted by each other’s needs or expectations. This can happen when one partner feels restricted or judged by another or when children feel intense pressure from their parents. This may even come from good intentions—sometimes impossible expectations or overly controlling behavior can even come from a desire to protect your loved ones.
In order to develop healthier relationships, it’s essential to understand that every person needs to have space for their individual freedom and personality. There will always be things about your family members that you don’t understand or relate to, and that’s ok. If you feel like a child, partner, or other family member is resisting your ideas or expectations, try thinking about it from their point of view. Fulfilling relationships will always require some degree of open-mindedness and adaptation, and even accepting things about the other person that you don’t understand.
Unpacking the past
Your present family relationships are often shaped by past events, behaviors, or patterns. While it is impossible to change the past and any harm that might have occurred, it is possible to make changes in the present. If a past event or pattern haunts your relationship with a family member, it’s essential to address it. Depending on the person or problem, this can look different. It may be a discussion, a confrontation, or simply a reflection on what has happened and how it shapes your life today.
Healing from the past is often a complicated process. It may require confrontations, facing painful feelings, and even taking distance from family members. It may also be a non-linear process with many ups and downs. No matter what this process looks like for you, it is worth the investment to address the past issues so that you can look forward.
Financial problems can be some of the most significant stresses in family relationships. In a society that revolves around money for basic physical needs and our sense of fulfillment and self-worth, it’s no surprise that money causes problems. But, if dealt with responsibly, financial problems don’t have to tear your relationships apart. Whether it’s a job loss, difficulty budgeting, or different expectations about money, you can work out any problem with flexibility and strong communication.
One of the key ways to deal with family financial problems is open and honest communication. Be honest with yourself and your family members about the situation, including your financial status, expectations, and worries for the future. It’s also important to stay adaptable. If you’re dealing with a financial situation, chances are you’ll have to make compromises. You may have to give up some of the things you spend on or adjust your expectations to fit your situation.
Finally, remember that your financial status isn’t a reflection of your worth as a person. Many miscommunications or conflicts over finances come from how they shape people’s identities and feelings. It can be helpful to work on any issues you may have around money and self-worth and understand what pressures you may be facing.
Finding a healthy work-life balance is a constant struggle for many of us. As we struggle to meet the demands of our jobs in a society that pushes us to monetize every moment, it’s hard not to bring the struggles of work home. This can often cause problems between partners, parents and children, and other family relationships.
As with many issues, it can be helpful to start by understanding the reality of the situation. What does your job require of you? Are you doing extra work beyond your job description, and if so, why? Do your work issues stay at work, or do you feel them seeping into your family relationships? Doing this kind of reflection on your situation can help you better understand what issues you may be facing and how you can solve them.
Dealing with work-life balance in your family relationships may mean making some changes to your schedule or addressing issues in the workplace. It may also include unpacking your internalized beliefs around work and taking steps to change the way you approach the separation between work and home life.
Communication is one of the most challenging yet essential aspects of family and other relationships. Miscommunication is one of the most common causes of difficult and complex relationships. Often two people in a relationship will have different expectations and experiences but avoid talking about these due to societal pressures and taboos. In order to establish better communication with our family members, we must be willing to speak openly about our expectations and any issues we are having.
One strategy for engaging in better communication is active listening. This means not only hearing what someone else is saying but working to understand the message they are trying to send to you. If you’re not sure whether you understand the other person, try paraphrasing back what they have said. This will give them a chance to either confirm that you’ve understood them or try to explain their idea again. In addition, it’s important not to immediately offer advice or solutions whenever someone talks about a problem they are facing. While it is important to solve your issues, doing this before listening can hinder deeper communication.
Change over time
People change over time, and so do family relationships. If you have noticed changes in yourself, your loved ones, or your relationships, this can be difficult to deal with. When a person or relationship changes, many people fear that they no longer have a place in the other person’s life. This can cause them to be distant or confrontational. If you are having difficulty dealing with changes in the people around you, try taking a moment to check in with yourself. Ask yourself what you are feeling and why you may be feeling this way.
If you notice that your family members are resistant to changes in your life, it can help to check in on those relationships. Your family members may not understand what is going on in your life, and it may take some time and energy to navigate the changes in your relationships. Try to be patient with those around you while also ensuring you have the space and support you need to process major changes.
Taking time for yourself
We may feel that taking time for ourselves, our interests, and our mental health is selfish, but it is essential to maintaining healthy relationships. When we feel frustrated, unsatisfied, or out of control in our own lives, we may take it out on others without even realizing it. Our beliefs about ourselves, past traumas, and emotional patterns can also make it difficult to understand our feelings and communicate effectively with others.
If you’re looking to cultivate better relationships with your family members, make sure you also take time to build a better relationship with yourself. Giving yourself the resources you need for your mental and physical health can make a big difference in your quality of life and relationships.
If taking time for yourself feels like a challenge, don’t worry. If you’re used to focusing your entire life on the needs of others, it can be difficult to even imagine taking a break. If this resonates with you, try taking small steps. Start by blocking out one hour to do an activity you love—and don’t beat yourself up if you have trouble doing it. Investing in yourself can be a tricky skill to learn, but it will come with time and practice.
Seeking Professional Help
If your family issues feel too overwhelming to deal with, it may be a good idea to seek professional help. A counselor or mental health professional can help you unpack your specific family issues and learn new coping strategies. If your family members are open to it, it can also be helpful to investigate couples therapy or family therapy.
Many people may feel hesitant to consult a mental health professional due to the stereotypes and stigma associated with mental illness. Keep in mind that there are no requirements for consulting a mental health professional. You do not need to have a disorder or any specific level of severity in the problems you are facing to seek help. Many people consult counselors, therapists, or other professionals at varying times in their lives.
It doesn’t have to be perfect
At the end of the day, nobody’s family relationships are perfect. No matter how much work you do, there is no perfect relationship. So take the pressure off! Making mistakes or having issues in your family relationships does not make you a failure, a bad person, or any less worthy of love and care. Building healthy relationships also takes time and effort, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t see changes immediately.
Building solid relationships is about connecting with others in ways that help you understand each other and find happiness in each other’s presence. This is more important than any societal standard or idea of what the perfect family should look like. Every family is different, and at the end of the day, the most important thing is to build the best relationships you can.