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Building Healthy Family Relationships

Updated on June 18, 2013

In the Name of Family

The things that people do to one another in the name of family amazes and astounds me. The way the lines of proper boundaries seem to blur when blood or marriage certificates get involved is enough to make anyone need glasses.

I have lost a lot of friendships in my life. I have scratched my head at things said amongst families that clearly hurts, but is supposed to be accepted because they are family. I have watched a lot of family wars. I have sadly participated in a lot of them too. I have watched friends go to war with their families only to come out no better on the other side.

I have learned a thing or two along the way. I have experienced some deep pain on that journey. Some pain could have been avoided by making better choices, but a lot of it was inevitable. I cannot control what others choose to do to me. I can only control what I choose to do in response to their actions.

Sitting in church on Sunday, I found myself moved to tears. I could not figure out why, but I went with it. I allowed myself to feel my feelings, as much as I didn't understand where they were from. Halfway through prayer, God gave me the answer. I was grieving for my family. I was grieving for all the missed opportunities, all the missed family outings, all the missing love because of our stupid choices. I was moved with compassion and a heavy heart for my family members, for people who had done myself and those dear to me great wrongs. I told my husband on the way home that I was tired of the full-grown adults in my "family" acting like four-year olds.

There is so much I cannot change, there is so much I am powerless to control now, for the first time I am learning the fine art of holding ones tongue. I have watched the pain inflicted upon others and all I can do is tuck those lessons into my heart, pray I never forget them, and pray that I never commit them myself and share them with others wishing to make better choices.


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Remember this above all others -- my memories are my memories, faulty and incorrect or otherwise and you can never in a million years change them. The same is true in reverse. You cannot change another persons memories or perceived slights against them. Accept it, accept the difference in memory and find a way to move forward.

Blood and Marriage Certificates do not make a family. Our choices make a family.

Blood relations or marriage certificates are not "get out of jail free" cards. These "titles" of aunt, uncle, mom, dad, grandma, grandpa etcetera do not entitle you in any way to do what ever you please. These "titles" do not insure you any special treatment or placement at wedding, baby showers, births, funerals, birthday parties, or any other occasion you can think of. The other persons special engagement/occasion is not your special engagement, therefore, they do not owe you anything, nor should you expect anything because of it.

If it doesn't belong to you, do not touch it, throw it away, send it off, give it away, burn it, change it, alter it, or in any other way make it so that the owner can no longer claim it or identify it. No matter how unimportant it may seem to you, this is not a deciding factor. Things that are not yours, are not yours, end of discussion. If they are in your house, take the appropriate, decent steps to return them to their rightful owner. Make contact, arrange pick up, mail or shipment options and follow through. No emotions are allowed to be involved in said transaction, regardless of infarction that caused the emotions. I know this is extremely hard in some circumstances, but is still necessary. Arrange for a third-party to handle the transaction if necessary, but be a big girl/boy about the whole thing.

Do not assume anything and do not take everything personally. The world does not revolve around you. Where a family member chooses to move, when they do or do not return your phone calls, why they said yes or no to any invite or offer of help, if they chose to take off work, or not take off work, the limit to which they are able to extend help or support these are all choices they make and you cannot control them. Yes, we all know that sometimes things are decided in a hurtful way, but this is their issue and they need to work through that. We are all human, and we all make decisions of our own, good and bad.

When asked something, be honest, but polite about it. If you ask for something and a person extends what they are able and you accept without expressing the need for more, you are not okay to then throw back in their face that they did not give you what you wanted. Accept what they give freely and graciously and look elsewhere to fill the other spaces needing to be filled, or just accept that this situation might be of your own making and you might have to face some of it alone. The same is true in reverse. If a someone asks for help, do not offer more than you can give, or are comfortable giving. It is not okay to over extend yourself on their behalf and then harbor resentments of time spent, money lost, emotional turmoil endured, etcetera when you did not place healthy boundaries to begin with.

Do not cut off contact with a family member out of spite, then throw in their face that they were never around. If you don't tell gramma about the dance recital, she can't be held accountable for not being there. If I don't invite Uncle Charlie to Christmas dinner, is it his fault that I didn't hear from him the whole season?

If it matters to you, maintain the contact in someway. Sending a thoughtful birthday card, or little note for no reason at all can really take a relationship to a different level. Even if you do not get one from that person. But do not do it because you feel that you have to, because we can see right through that. Each person is responsible for some part of the relationship, no one person can carry it by themselves, nor should they feel obligated to. Some of us are natural relationship nurturer's, and others of us - not so much. But there should still be a little give and take.

Do not under any circumstances send bad information via text or email. I do not care if the person you need to speak with ran over your dog, sent you hate mail and put bleach in your shampoo bottle. If their mother dies and you find out about it first, a text is not acceptable. A text from a third-party is even less acceptable. Think of how your heart would wrench and your temper would flare being the recipient of such a text. Find a way to make it amicable, keep it short and sweet, but tell them over the phone or in person if at all possible. And please, for the love of Pete, do not Facebook it.

When you have done wrong, own up to and make it right -- face to face if at all possible. And no, a lack of motivation to bother to place it into your schedule does not make it "not possible". If you steal something, return it in person, and apologize face to face. Nothing makes a lesson hit home like having to look someone in the eye and see the hurt you caused. Nothing makes the healing happen faster than looking into those same eyes and seeing the grace and forgiveness that comes when you had the courage to do what was right. Parents: If your children are responsible for it, guide them in these steps. Teach them now how to own up to their mistakes and make it right. Show them that it is okay to make a mistake and that they can learn from this. Mailing a stolen item when the victim is one city over is not okay and does not foster good relations.

Boundaries extend in both directions. Your own, and others. Your boundaries protect you, their boundaries protect them. Getting angry when you run up against their fence does not help the fence come down or be moved. This only stands to make the fence bigger, taller and longer. This can be the hardest for us as humans, we want what we want, even if it means having double standards to get it. This is can cause havoc amongst parents of now adult children, between now adult siblings, and even between spouses. Do not ask for anything you are not willing to extend to others yourself. Do not put up any boundaries that you cannot enforce. Please remember to enforce with decency, there is a human being on the other side of that fence.

Grudges are going to be made and held, we all do it, even when we don't want to. Understand that as we try to work through the pain of others choices against us and our own bad choices things can be bumpy and rocky. Their may be some distance involved. Try your best to be tactfully honest with someone who has hurt you when you plan to distance yourself. If the pain is still fresh, but you want to venture into relationship territory again, be honest about this as well.

Honest is always the best policy. The worst thing you can do is lie or inflate the truth to save hurt feelings. The disrespect you display when lying hurts far more than the truth, said in love, ever will.

Do not make decisions for others based on the "conversation in your head" you had with them. It is not cool to assume what they will say in response to a question you might ask and so in turn you choose not to ask. This is very disrespectful; allow each person the consideration of making their own decisions. If someone else is going to over extend themselves, that is not your responsibility, nor should you feel guilty about it in the process. This is a very hard decision to make, especially if you know the person who overextends themselves then treats you in an unpleasant manner in return for the resentments they created themselves. This is were healthy boundaries and honesty come into play.

And the best for last....if you buried the hatchet, do not dig it up again. If a problem was talked out, resolved, apologizes spoken and steps taken to foster healthy relationships, leave it alone. If NEW memories or perceptions arise, talk it out with a safe alternate person first. Find out where these feelings are coming from and whether or not it is appropriate to bring it up with the other person. If it is determined that it is safe and appropriate to discuss, do so with "I" statements, not in an attacking manner.

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