December 25, 2020

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Guest Author

Refocusing Family Relationships On Love And Connection Through Honest Expectations

Our family relationships are among the closest we have. Whether it’s our biological or chosen family we spend the most time with, our loved ones support us and sustain us through difficult emotional times. They give us advice, have fun with us, and generally make our lives better.

Our family relationships are among the closest we have. Whether it’s our biological or chosen family we spend the most time with, our loved ones support us and sustain us through difficult emotional times. They give us advice, have fun with us, and generally make our lives better.

Sometimes, though, family relationships can go sour. We may find ourselves starting more arguments and spending more time in conflict than we spend cooperating. Over time, conflict can fester and eventually turn into contempt, making it difficult to keep family relationships healthy and positive. In some cases, it can be difficult to have a conversation that doesn’t devolve into an argument. You may find yourself feeling lost, wondering what went wrong.  

This post will offer some strategies and tips to reorient family relationships through honesty and reflection. By putting thought and care into repairing strained family relationships, you’ll be more likely to re-establish a positive connection.

Reflecting on Relationships

Over time, relationships with our partners, family, and close friends can become misaligned. Imagine a newlywed couple (we’ll call them John and Jill) move into their first home together. Their relationship is thriving, and they are happy with their new life.

Then, they start having occasional arguments. John loves canoeing, but Jill doesn’t enjoy getting cold and wet on the river, so she stays at home. Jill enjoys watching movies and talking with John. Every time she refuses to join him on the weekends, he is increasingly offended. Meanwhile, Jill feels hurt because she thinks John doesn’t want to spend his weekends with her. Both come to believe that neither values the other enough to sacrifice and make time for their chosen activities. Their relationship becomes more uncomfortable.

John and Jill are eventually pushed to reflect more deeply on their relationship. What are they really looking for from each other — a partner to spend the weekends with? Are they avoiding each other, or just pursuing different interests?

They both take time to reflect on why they first got together, and what they need from each other. They may decide to set aside a weeknight for each other, while balancing their separate interests on the weekend. They work to determine their own ways to refocus on love and connection — not conflict.

How to Reflect

The following questions can help you reflect on your relationship, reorient, and focus on connection above conflict. Consider answering these questions by yourself. Set a timer, and think about these questions or write in a journal. If you choose, you can talk with family members for an honest, productive discussion.

  1. How has the past month (or year) been for the family relationship? What are some of your best memories together? What tough times did you have, and how did you move past them (or how could you have done a better job of moving past them)?
  2. Thinking about the past week or month, what have conversations focused on? What does the family share about their lives outside of the family relationship?
  3. When does the family feel the most connected to each other? When do you feel more isolated?
  4. Think about the times you have supported each other. What makes each person in the relationship feel the most supported? Were there any times when you felt you were reaching out for support, but didn’t receive it?
  5. Research suggests that sharing key values is an important part of a healthy relationship. What are your key values? Which of these overlap with the other people in your family or relationship?
  6. Reflect on the ways you are similar to and different from others in your family relationship. Do you have the same style of confrontation? In what ways are your personalities different? Think about whether your “love languages” are the same. For example, one person in a family relationship may prefer gifts as a sign of love, while others may prefer conversation or shared activities.
  7. Think about how other aspects of your life are affecting your relationship. Whether it’s a struggle with mental or physical health, a stressful job, or sudden life changes, reflect on whether conflicts are stemming from your relationship, or from the outside world.

Expect (and Overcome) Conflict

Conflict is a normal part of a relationship. Having an argument or a disagreement is by no means a sign of doom for the health of your family relationship. Instead, it could be a signal pointing you toward the areas that need work and the problems that need addressing.

Expecting conflict can help you react and resolve disagreements in a healthier way than ignoring or overreacting to an argument. By reflecting on the common sources of your family disagreements, you can discover patterns in your relationships and create plans to strengthen them.

Consider having a plan for arguments in place. This could be a way of speaking, like using “I statements” to avoid laying blame, for example, or a general plan to de-escalate arguments. (For instance, you could take time to reflect separately after an argument, then come together and talk honestly about why you disagreed.) It can also be helpful to set aside time for constructive, positive activities that you enjoy. Whether it’s a date night with your partner or a board game with your family, focusing on the existing fun and love in your relationship can help put conflict in perspective.  

And finally, different types of therapy offer excellent ways to reorient your relationship through professional guidance. Consider these options:

●      Couples therapy: A therapist can provide tailored treatment to you and your partner, both individually and together, for a relationship-focused program.

●      Group therapy or family therapy: This is a great option for working through problems and issues with family members (both chosen and biological). A therapist can mediate disagreements and provide insights.

●      Individual therapy: Working with a therapist individually can be an excellent way to strengthen your relationships overall.

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