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Published on September 11, 2017

How to Negotiate With Your Family Without Hurting the Relationship at All

How to Negotiate With Your Family Without Hurting the Relationship at All

There is no such thing as a perfect family. Every family has issues, but we can have healthy family relationships if we know how to best communicate. When dealing with tough family issues, it is always better to have a softer, kinder approach than one that is abrasive. Family members will be alienated when they are broached with a topic of concern and the approach is harsh.

Destruction within family relationships is typically done with words, so family members must be careful with what is said and also how it is said to fellow family members.

When dealing with touchy family subjects it is always better to think about the long term relationship. If someone approaches a family member with harshness, bitterness, meanness, or anger, the other party will retreat, and there will more than likely be damage to the relationship. However, if family members use a softer approach that is done in love, then the long term relationship will be improved rather than hindered. If families want healthy dynamics, then when discussions on difficult topics within family happen, words need to be chosen carefully, and the approach even more cautiously, because what is said and how it is said can have long lasting effects on family relationships.

Even small issues can have devastating results on the family if the issue is not appropriately negotiated and communicated.

For example, imagine if you have to move in with your spouse’s parents for a short term because your spouse had a job change. Your in-laws typed up a list of house rules and responsibilities that you feel is far too strict and unrealistic to implement especially since you have three young children. You want to contribute to the household duties and follow their rules, but also realize you have lots of other responsibilities on your plate, especially with care of your children. You want to broach the subject, but not sure what to say or how to say it. If you were to tell them that they were being completely ridiculous, unrealistic and unreasonable, they would most likely not react well to your statement.  Depending on how severe your tone of voice and your choice of words, they could very well ask you to leave and go to a hotel.

Something as small as the topic of household chores can divide a family, because we are more sensitive to emotions, feelings, and thoughts of family members. We tend to take things more personally when it comes from family. When a subject is broached severely, the reaction is likely to be severe as well. There are ways to approach a tough subject like this in a manner that will not create family dissension. I will outline those steps below, so you have a practical example of how to negotiate a tough subject with family. Below are also some tips on how to navigate negotiations with your family.

It’s Okay to Have Different Opinions in a Family

A person may be hurt, angry, and have feeling that they need to confront a family member about a topic. The question they need to ask themselves is “what would be the upside in broaching this family member about this topic” and “is it really your business”. If their motivation is something related to their personal life and they don’t play any role in the subject at hand, such as how a family member parents their children or how they treat their spouse, then they need to stay out of it.

All family members have different ways of doing things whether it is raising kids, cooking, spousal relationships, religion, etc. Just because people were raised in the same home doesn’t mean that they are similar at all. Family members can be as different as night and day. That’s okay. The world is interesting because of variety. Families sometimes have the hardest time accepting differences because they are in fact family, especially those who are blood related. They think for some reason that because they are family, they need to do things the same or think the same. However, this is not the case.

Everyone is different and has different ways of doing life, even if they are blood related. For example, Just because a sister goes with her husband and children to stay with their parents every Christmas doesn’t mean that another sibling automatically has to do the same. If they set out for their family to create a different tradition of celebrating Christmas morning at home with their own children, then these decisions should be embraced and respected.

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Families must allow fellow family members to have different traditions and practices. There is no need for a confrontation or discussion about these things, as all are adults and choosing their own path, traditions, and ways of doing life. Differences are not only allowed in families, but should be recognized and respected by fellow family members.

There are far too many families being divided because they are in each other’s business and they don’t need to be. For example, an adult sibling may think that her sister feeds her own children incredibly poorly. They get junk food throughout the day and they eat nothing organic. Whereas the other sibling only eats organic food and all junk food is banned from their home. What would the upside of this sibling having the conversation with their sister about her habits in feeding her children? What is the likelihood of her actually changing the way she feeds her children? That would require a huge commitment on her part, so for her to implement real change and want to change it would more than likely take more than just another sibling’s opinion on the subject. There is not an upside if it is felt that they would not make any changes. Just making her aware that people know that she is feeding her children poorly is not going to create change. Everyone has a different opinion when it comes to feeding children.

Again, allowing for differences in the way family members parent their children, live life, and value different facets of life is all part of mature and healthy family relationships. Not only should family members be allowed to live their life how they want, their decisions should be respected. Confronting family members for their life choices that have no affect on other family members is unnecessary and typically creates damage to family relationships.

Think of Their Perspective Before You Even Broach the Subject

Putting oneself in another person’s shoes is essential to understanding them. People who are only looking at a situation from their own personal perspective and not taking into consideration the other person’s perspective, are subsequently likely to broach the family member in a highly biased manner.

Allowing for an openness and vulnerability in examining the situation from the other person’s perspective can be very enlightening. Family members must give their fellow family members the respect and love they deserve by trying to view life through their eyes and their situation. If they fail to do this and are thinking from only their own perspective, they are likely to damage the relationship with insensitive or inappropriate conversations.

Use Kindness and Softness in Your Approach

Soft is always better when it comes to talking about difficult things. Harshness puts people off and shuts them down. People will open up only if they feel safe and comfortable sharing with the other person. If they feel they are going to be blamed, judged, criticized, or treated unkindly, they will not be open to the discussion.

Kindness is not only tone of voice and the words chosen, but it also involves a conscious decision to leave any judgements out of the conversation. Judging the person will only make them defensive and therefore the person who broached the subject becomes the enemy. This is not what any family member would do intentionally if their desire is to have good family relationships.

Family members must speak in a way that they would want to be spoken to, which is with kindness and love, not judgement or harshness, in order to maintain healthy relationships within the family.

Avoid Harshness When Negotiating with Family

Blaming and Finger Pointing in the Form of “You” Statements

Blaming usually comes in the form of “you” statements. Cut that word out of your vocabulary when you are discussing something important or of a sensitive nature with family. When you feel the need to say “you”, change the context and thoughts by altering them to “I feel” statements. For example, if your sister wants to set a holiday gift exchange price to a minimum of $50 and your instinct is to say “you always expect everyone to spend way more than we can afford, we aren’t all as wealthy as you”. That “you” statement is pretty harsh and is likely to insight an argument.

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Instead, change the thought and message into an “I feel” statement. This statement should not put any blame on the other party, but helps them to see your side of things. For example, a better statement would be “I feel uncomfortable with the $50 amount, as it is too much for our family at this time, since we have a strict holiday budget”. You could then follow it up by suggesting a different amount or asking if there is some room for negotiating the amount or doing a price range.

Be solution oriented, but don’t start with blaming or the entire conversation will blow up. You can get what you want with either scenario, but one is more damaging to the relationship. When you blame others and finger point you are alienating those you are pointing your finger at to blame. Therefore, relationships break down when you chose the route of blame. Take the high road and use “I feel” statements to help them understand your perspective compassionately.

Criticizing

Family members will often criticize because they see something wrong and they want to help fix the problem by pointing out what is wrong. Their intention of helping is good. However, the method is problematic because the recipient of criticism doesn’t see it as help. Instead, they see criticism as someone telling them what is wrong with them or what they are doing wrong. It doesn’t help them but makes them upset toward the person who is delivering the criticism. Criticism should be avoided altogether when negotiating with family.

Advice

Nobody wants to hear unsolicited advice. If they didn’t ask you for your opinion or advice, then don’t give it. Psychology Today explains that advice can come across as trying to control the person, or impinging on their freedom, as well as these other problematic motivations:[1]

They suggest that the advice, justifiably or not, comes across to us as one-upmanship, or assertion of dominance, or criticism, or distrust, or failure to consider our own unique goals and priorities.

Find out more about how unsolicited advice can seriously hurt a relationship: This Is How You Worsen the Relationship Without Noticing

Ultimatums

Ultimatums are a form of bullying. It is a way of twisting someone’s arm to do something by making the consequence so painful they have no other choice, than to comply. The real problem is that the other party didn’t make the choice on their own. They were forced or bullied into agreement by an ultimatums on the table.

Ultimatums are not fair and they only harm relationships in the long run because the party on the receiving side of the ultimatum is likely to feel they were forced into something.

Gossiping to Others About the Issue

Do not go to friends or other family members if you have an issue with someone in your family. You need to go directly to the person with whom you have an issue. Don’t gossip about the person behind their back. They may find out eventually that you were talking about them behind their back and they will feel betrayed.

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Skip the gossip and go directly to the family member to discuss the subject at hand. Don’t involve others who have nothing to do with the situation.

Being Right

If your end goal of the conversation is to “be right” or “to win”, your attitude is all wrong. This kind of attitude is not one that is conducive to healthy family relationships. You need to be more concerned about reaching a mutually agreed upon solution, which typically involves compromise. If you are all about being right, compromise won’t come to your mind.

Be flexible, humble, and allow yourself the vulnerability to be wrong. It happens to all of us. We can’t be right all the time. More often then not, a compromise can be reached if both parties are flexible and no one side is insistent on “being right” at the end.

Steps to Negotiate with Family and Maintain Healthy Relationships

1. Decide what to discuss beforehand and how to phrase things in the kindest, most compassionate manner.

This is also the time to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the upside of discussing this topic?
  • Is it any of my business?

If you feel that discussing the topic can lead to resolution and improvement in the relationship, plan to discuss the topic. If the topic has nothing to do with you, such as how your sibling raises their children or what color they want to paint their kitchen, then stay out of it.

Once you have decided the subject needs to be discussed, list the key points you want to go over with this person. Write down phrases for each of these key points that present the topic in a kind, compassionate, open, and understanding manner. For example, with the story at the beginning of the article you were told to imagine yourself moving in with your in-laws. They set unrealistic expectations for yourself and your children while living at their home. Here is a good way to approach this topic and some notes you could possibly jot down before talking to them:

  • “I feel overwhelmed with all that is going on in our lives with the move, dealing with three children and how they are adusting to the move, so I was hoping we could discuss the expections you gave us”.
  • “I feel compelled to help with the household duties, but I also feel I need to balance this with my responsibility to my children and husband”.
  • “I would like to go over the list with you, so we can decide together which of these household duties take higher priority over others, so I can help where it is needed most.”

These “I feel” and solution oriented statements will give a good starting point for a discussion, that don’t place blame on anyone. Instead they are phrased to help the in-laws see your side of things. They are also phrased in a way that show a compromise is in mind already.

2. Ask for a good time and location to have the discussion.

Ask the person for a time and place to sit down to have a discussion. Be sure to include everyone involved in the issue. Don’t leave someone out if they are pertinent to the problem or solution. Make sure it is a location where you won’t have distractions. When you meet, put all electronics aside so you can focus on the discussion.

3. Talk, but listen more.

We all tend to talk too much. Say what needs to be said, but no more. Keep to the points that you outlined beforehand. Then listen to the other party. Before you respond, process the information and take some time to think before responding. Often in family negotiations people respond too quickly, especially as things get heated and the result is a heightened level of negative emotions.

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Keep calm, talk slow, and think before speaking. Listen to the other party and let them know you want to hear their side and understand what they have to say. Use active listening methods to convey to the other party that you are understanding them. You do this by paraphrasing back to them the important points they have spoken. Here are some great tips for active listening if you want some additional insight on this topic: How to Master Active Listening

4. Stay focused on the subject.

Families have issues. A lot of them. Don’t allow other issues to interfere with the current negotiation. Stay focused with the issue at hand. Don’t go off on tangents or bring up other past issues. If the words you speak don’t help with the solution, don’t say them. If the other party goes off on a tangent, help kindly direct hem back to the current topic.

5. Seek to understand their side of things.

Compassion is key to reaching a resolution. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand their perspective. When they speak, listen with compassion and an open heart. This is easier to do if emotions are not getting high and things’ not getting heated. It is important to help be a part of the calm. Let the other party know you are there to discuss things because you care for them and they are family. It is not about “winning” or “being right”.

6. Walk away if things get too heated.

When people start yelling, the issue will not be appropriately discussed and a solution will not be found. If things get too heated and people begin to yell, it is time to step back or walk away. Try again when everyone is calm and willing to talk in normal tones.  Here are some good tips on dealing with someone who is yelling at you: The Best Way to React When Someone is Shouting at You in Anger

7. Find a compromise that appeases both sides.

Research from Harvard examined family negotiations and found the following:[2]

A typical strength of family negotiations is that family members generally prefer to reach mutually acceptable outcomes in their negotiations.

Good families who love one another want to reach solutions when there is conflict. The goal is to find a solution that is acceptable for all parties involved. This is why discussion is needed to find out what is acceptable to each party, so a middle ground can be found.

No family is perfect and there’s no need to have a perfect family in which everyone has to agree with each other all the time. It’s okay to have different opinions and ways to approach things within a family. It’s about mutual respect and recognition with each other’s thoughts. If you find yourself in a situation where negotiation is needed with your family, try the steps I suggested and figure out what’s best for everyone together with your family members.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash Minjoo Son via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

Doctor of Psychology

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Published on July 13, 2018

Striving Towards Secure Attachment: How to Restructure Your Thoughts

Striving Towards Secure Attachment: How to Restructure Your Thoughts

What if you could discover some tools and methods that could improve your relationships? What if by gaining a little knowledge you could understand your relationship dynamics better and give them a boost up?

By learning what secure attachment is and how to restructure your thoughts, you can become more self-aware of your relationship dynamics. After becoming more aware, you can then take a few steps to make them better than ever. That’s something that many of us could benefit from.

When we hear the term secure attachment, our mind typically goes to a relationship. And that’s exactly what it’s about.

In this article I’ll discuss the concept of secure attachments in more detail and how restructuring your thoughts can help you strive towards achieving better relationships.

Relationships are a hugely important part of our lives and whatever we can do to improve them is a good thing for everyone involved.

What is attachment theory?

Let’s do a quick overview of what attachment theory is. This will provide a good foundation for the rest of this article.

The esteemed psychologist John Bowlby first coined the term attachment theory in the late 60’s. Bowlby studied early childhood conditioning extensively and what he found was very interesting.

His research showed that when a very young child has a strong attachment to a caregiver, it provides the child with a sense of security and foundation. On the other hand when there isn’t a secure attachment, the child will expend a lot more developmental energy looking for security and stability.

The child without the secure attachment tends to become more fearful, timid and slow to explore new situations or their environment.

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When a strong attachment is developed in a child, he or she will be inclined to be more adventurous and seek out new experiences because they feel more secure. They know that whoever is watching out for them will be there if needed.

Bowlby’s colleague, Mary Ainsworth, took the theory further. She did extensive studies around infant-parent separations and provided a more formal framework for the differing attachment styles.

How attachment develops

Simply put, attachment is an emotional bond with another person. Attachment doesn’t have to go both ways, it can be one person feeling attached to another without it being reciprocated. Most of the time, it works between two people to one degree or another.

Attachment begins at a very young age. Over the history of time, when children were able to maintain a closer proximity to a caregiver that provided for them, a strong attachment was formed.

The initial thought was that the ability to provide food or nourishment to a child was the primary driver of a strong attachment.

It was then discovered that the primary drivers of attachment proved to be the parent/caregivers responsiveness to the child as well as the ability to nurture that child in a variety of ways. Things such as support, care, sustenance, and protection are all components of nurturing a child.

In essence a child forms a strong attachment when they feel that their caregiver is accessible and attentive and there if they need them; that the parent/caregiver will be there for them. If the child does not feel that the caregiver is there to help them when needed, they experience anxiety.

Different types of attachments

In children, 4 types of attachment styles have been identified. They are as follows:

  • Secure attachment – This is primarily marked by discomfort or distress when separated from caregivers and joy and security when the caregiver is back around the child. Even though the child initially feels agitated when the caregiver is no longer around, they feel confident they will return. The return of the parent or caregiver is met with positive emotions, the child prefers parents to strangers.
  • Ambivalent attachment – These children become very distressed when the parent or caregiver leaves. They feel they can’t rely on their caregiver for support when the need arises. Even though a child with ambivalent attachment may be agitated or confused when reunited with a parent or caregiver, they will cling to them.
  • Avoidant attachment – These kids typically avoid parents or caregivers. When they have a choice of being with the parent or not, they don’t seem to care one way or the other. Research has shown that this may be the result of neglectful caregivers.
  • Disorganized attachment – These children display a mix of disoriented behavior towards their caregiver. They may want them sometimes and other times they don’t. This is sometimes thought to be linked to inconsistent behavior from the parent or caregiver.

What attachments mean to adults

So the big question is how does this affect us in adulthood? Intuitively it makes sense that as a child, if we have someone who will be there when we need them, we feel secure. And on the other end of the spectrum, if we aren’t sure someone’s going to provide what we need when we need it, we may become more anxious and fearful.

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As an adult, we tend to wind up in one of three primary attachment types based on our childhood experiences. These are secure, avoidant, and anxious. Technically, there is a fourth one, anxious-avoidant, but it is quite a bit less common. They are described as follows:

  • Secure – When you have a secure attachment, you are comfortable displaying interest and affection towards another person but you’re also fine being alone and independent. Secure types are less apt to obsess over a relationship gone sour and handle being rejected easier. Secure types also tend to be better than other types with not starting relationships with people that might not be the best partners. They cut off the relationship quicker when they see things in a potential partner they don’t like. Secure attachment people make up the majority of the attachment types.
  • Anxious – Folks who have an anxious attachment style typically need a lot of reassurance from their partners. They have a much harder time being on their own and single than the other styles and fall into bad relationships more often. The anxious style represent about 20% of the population. It’s been shown that if anxious attachment styles learn how to communicate their needs better and learn to date secure partners, they can move towards the secure attachment style.
  • Avoidant – Avoidant attachment style represents approximately 25% of the population as adults. Avoidants many times have the hardest time in a relationship because they have a difficult time finding satisfaction. In general, they are uncomfortable with close relationships and intimacy and are quite independent. They are the lone wolf type person.
  • Anxious-avoidant – The anxious-avoidant style is relatively rare. It is composed of conflicting styles – they want to be close but at the same time push people away. They do things that push the people they are closest to away. Many times there can be a higher risk of depression or other mental health issues.

Here’s where it gets really interesting:

Move towards secure attachment

The good news is that it is possible to move from one style to another. Specifically, it is possible to move towards a more secure attachment style.

Now as you might imagine, this is not an easy or a quick process. Like any type of big change where you are attempting to alter such a deeply ingrained mindset, it takes a strong will to accomplish.

The first step is developing an awareness of your attachment style. The next step is to have the desire and drive to move your attachment style towards the more secure style.

If someone with an anxious or avoidant style has a long term relationship with a secure type, the anxious or avoidant person can slowly get brought up more towards a secure style.

The opposite is also true, they could bring the secure person more towards their attachment style. Therefore, you have to be conscious of your type and if you want to move more towards secure, it takes persistence.

Therapy is an option as well. Anxious types many times need to work on their self-esteem, avoidants on their connection specifically and compassion.

How to restructure your thoughts

Ready for the way to do it? Here we go:

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For the Avoidant Style

As with any type of change on such a deep level, the first step is awareness. Realize you have an avoidant style and be aware of it as you have interactions with your partner(s).

Try to work towards a place of mutual support and giving/taking. Try to lessen your need for complete self-reliance. Allow your partner to do some things that make you a little uncomfortable that you would normally do yourself.

Don’t always focus on the imperfections of your partner. We all have them, remind yourself of that.

Make yourself a list of the qualities that your partner has that you are thankful for.

Look for a secure style partner if at all possible, they would be good for you to be with.

If you have a tendency to end relationships before they go too far, be aware of that and let it develop further.

Get into the habit of accepting and even instigating physical touch. Tell yourself that it’s good for you to have some intimacy. Intimacy can help you feel safe and secure.

And over time you can realize that it’s okay to rely on other people.

For the Anxious Style

For the anxious style, the #1 thing to work on is learning to communicate needs better. This is a huge issue for the anxious style.

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First and foremost if you communicate your needs more clearly, you will have less anxiety, that’s already a big win. This will also allow you to better assess if a potential partner is good for you.

Try to bring your feelings more to the surface and most importantly, share them with your partner. Remember that secure attachments typically communicate pretty well, this is what you are working towards.

For the Anxious-Avoidant Style

The anxious-avoidant is a very small percentage of the attachment styles. Since this type tends to be anxious in the relationship AND more or less a loner, the key here is working hard to be very self-aware of your actions.

Use the parts of striving towards secure attachment from the anxious tips and the avoidant restructuring of your thoughts to consciously work towards being more secure.

When you find yourself pushing someone away, ask why. If you feel worried that your partner is going to leave you, again, ask yourself where this is coming from. Have they shown you any reason to believe this? Many times there is no real evidence. In that case, allow yourself to calm down and try not to obsess over it.

For the Secure Style

Since the goal is to move towards a more secure attachment style, there isn’t much needed here as you might imagine.

Something to be aware of is being in a relationship just because it’s “okay”. Don’t stay if it’s not a good place for you and your partner. If your partner is of an anxious or avoidant attachment style, stay mindful to not start developing characteristics of those styles.

Strive towards Secure Attachment

As we wrap things up, you’ve probably developed a good idea of the benefits of secure attachment. If you don’t currently have a secure attachment style, here are some benefits of restructuring your thoughts more towards this style:

  • Positive self esteem and self image
  • Close and well adjusted relationships
  • Sense of security in self and the world
  • Ability to be independent as well as in relationships
  • Optimistic outlook on life and yourself
  • Strong coping skills and strategies for relationships and life
  • Trust in self and others
  • Close, intimate relationships
  • Strong determination and problem solving skills

If you are an anxious or avoidant style or the combination of anxious-avoidant, it is possible to move towards a secure attachment style.

It takes self-awareness, patience and a strong desire to get close to being secure but it can be done. You will find that putting the effort into it will provide you with more open, honest and satisfying relationships.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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