Got an event coming up with difficult family members? Use this unconventional method to enjoy your visit and redirect the relationship into a much healthier and positive direction.
You want me to do what!?
Years ago, Jim Cathcart gave me a piece of unexpected advice when I was struggling in a relationship with a member of my extended family. He said to me, "Everyone has an inner circle made up of their primary relationships--those closest to them. What you should do is kick them out of your inner circle". I was absolutely shocked by his advice. Kick them out, really? How can I do that? We're talking about a life-long family member.
He said, "Don't worry. They'll come back in time." He clarified that this does not mean kick them out of your life completely or cut off the relationship. That's only for extreme circumstances. But, to be fair, unhealthy relationships can cause familial and emotional damage and they need to be addressed appropriately.
A good place to start is to enter into family events (or business events) without placing your personal fulfillment expectations on other people--even if they are family. In other words, don't be emotionally needy. Seeking validation from others or demanding that they accept your opinions will only lead to unnecessary conflict again and leave you disappointed again.
Instead, be friendly, polite, and maintain healthy boundaries by interacting without expecting them to agree with your beliefs or even show interest in your life. Even if they say things that ordinarily would make you angry, respond with a smile and either redirect the conversation, or simply let them talk and keep you opinions to yourself. Rehashing the same heated discussions over politics, religion, or past family issues with no hope of a positive outcome is senseless.
You cannot control other people. You can only control how you respond to them.
So, make your responses positive, maintain a secure position on the high road, and gracefully thank them for a wonderful time when you leave. They probably won't expect that from you and will be stumped you didn't fight back or argue. In essence, you just executed a tectonic shift in their perception of you. Good job!
At the next event when you see them--do it again. Only now, begin to take note of how you can be an asset to them. A simple gesture or phrase of acknowledgement or affirmation goes a long way. Instead of seeking those things for yourself, acknowledge and affirm them--even if you don't agree with their opinions. In time, you'll find that some relationships are capable of not only being mended, but also transforming into a much stronger bond than you ever imagined.
Jim's council to me was right on. I followed his advice and over the next few years the once tattered relationship with my family member dramatically improved and we're now vital assets in each others inner circles. Thanks Jim!