For the Sake of the Relationship, Shut Up
Dealing with (Difficult) Family Members
I used to envy people who (seemingly) got along so well with their family members.
I say I used to envy them because now I know better: every family has their issue(s).
There is no such thing as a perfect family, but for me, the closest thing to perfection is a reduction of problematic communication.
It is not easy or always smooth sailing, but it can be done.
You can go to that family wedding and see your too nosey cousin and get through it, without a snide remark.
You can go home for Christmas, without having a full out brawl with a sibling over who knows what, that happened god knows how long ago.
You can go on that road trip with only blood-related relatives and come back unscathed, but it takes work and a commitment to want it to work.
The secret to successful family visits is shutting (the fuck) up.
Not every comment made by so and so needs a rebuttal and you do not need to be an advocate to correct each and every wrong a family member of yours commits. You can simply exist, protect your boundaries and be firm about them, but not add any fuel to any pending or occurring fires.
If you do not value the person speaking the words, why wage a war with them over said words?
If you do not respect the person you who is speaking, why encourage them to continue to speak by disagreeing or countering their ineptitude?
If you do not like the person speaking, what do you care what they think of you? Who cares if they think you are cheap, petty, selfish or anything and everything in between?
What do you get out of trying to prove you are not whatever they think you are? Has that ever worked in the past? What makes you think it will work this time?
I use to be the queen of having the last word.
If someone wronged me, they sure as hell were going to hear about it, right then and there, but not anymore.
If someone is important to me and I want to hold on to the relationship I have with them, I will send a written message or call them a day or two after the event. I will text, send a voicemail or email them, letting them know how they made me feel and that they are not allowed to do that to me anymore. If they agree, hopefully, apologize and the incident and never occurs again, I will happily move on with the relationship.
On the other hand, if the individual issuing the extremely rude, demeaning, or hurtful commentary has already received one of these messages from me, or I have already decided they are not adding any value to my life, I simply say nothing in the situation. I put in no effort to let them know how I feel because I (damn well) know that they do not care about how I feel.
I know that silence can be seen as an agreement to the actions being done or words being articulated, but for me, my sanity is worth more than the potential battle which lies ahead.
Is it really our job to make everyone we are related to into upstanding citizens?
To teach them the difference between right and wrong? To show them that their thinking is homophobic, racists, sexist or otherwise? To explain to them why what they said hurt your feelings and suggesting better, more polite and respectful ways to explain your difference? Is that really worth it?
There are those who you must simply allow to exist.
These are the family members who you see no future where it would be easy or feasible to never see them; they will always be at holidays, weddings, funerals and everything in between. For this group of individuals, you must learn to let go because every statement does need an answer or reaction.
If someone is racist, illiterate, illogical, suffering from mental health issues or anything and everything in between, it is not your personal job to teach/save/help them. You can simply let them live and not let their words impact your life.
Similar to the age-old question of ‘if a tree falls in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?’ if someone is judging your life, but you do not respect them, does the judgement have value?
Staying silent is (very) difficult, but it can be done.
I have heard all the arguments for the other side too. How it is our job to educate or show people the wrongs in their ways, but is it really?
Is it really my job to teach a grown adult that they should not say racist things?
Is it really my job to teach an elder that the way in which they view the world is sexist or just outright backwards thinking?
I do not see these things as my job, but I am not saying I have not fallen victim to succumbing to these arguments in the past.
I have realized that when someone judges me, criticizes my choices, mocks my decisions, or ridicules my way of life, it says so much more about them than it will ever say about me. The hard part is that no matter how many times I remind myself of this, words still sting.
Let them have the last laugh I say because we walk away with the peace of mind knowing we did not intentionally inflict harm on another with our words.
Let them make that dig about your life choices because we walk away knowing that we are not insecure enough in our choices to need their validation.
Let them talk about you behind your back because, as they say, what one says about you behind your back is none of your (damn) business.
The best piece of advice I have to deal with negative family members is to vent about it after.
Talk to a friend, spouse, relative (you like), air out your frustrations, in a safe space, and then let it be. Walk away from it. Bring it up with your therapist, if needed, but do not go back to the source of the pain seeking a comfort you know you will not receive.
Some people do not want to change, they simply want the opportunity to lash out at you.
If you know someone will not take criticism of how they behaved or spoke to you well then you already know it is not worth speaking to them about it.
I have difficult conversations with people who I want to have fulfilling relationships with all the time.
I have the awkward discussions with loved ones who are very important to me and I want to continue to be important to as well. It is simply the other people who I no longer give that form of attention or energy to anymore and these are the people I choose to remain silent with.
The older I get the more I realize that my time is valuable, so I am becoming much more critical of who I fill said time with. If someone does not bring you joy, you are justified to keep them at an arm’s length from you, for your protection, for the safety of your life, happiness, peace and for your sanity.