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Published on December 13, 2019

7 Reminders on Building Strong Family Relationships

7 Reminders on Building Strong Family Relationships

At the end of the year, when most of the world celebrates family holidays, you can’t help but revisit the status of your own family relationships. As marketers work hard to paint perfect relationships in every commercial that comes your way, you almost become convinced that the need to navigate the complexities of yours is an exception rather than the rule.

The truth is, all family relationships are multidimensional structures where often polar feelings fit together. Kids love their parents but also hurt them the most. Parents want the best for their kinds but often confuse it with what’s best for them. We have a lot of expectations for our family, and stakes are high. That’s why it is hard when we struggle to connect with them.

Every time you feel an ocean-wide gap between you and someone who shares the same blood, it’s not a moment to withdraw further with a sigh “Well, this is my family.” It is a rather good opportunity to re-examine the beliefs you hold about your family and what makes a family strong.

Below are simple and actionable reminders that, at those very moments when you feel like your family is messed up in some unique ways, will help you strengthen your bonds with your relatives instead of weakening them.

1. Shared DNA Does Not Mean You Will Want the Same

Let’s suppose you get angry when your parents tell you to keep your head down and quietly work hard at a job you don’t like. Or you get upset with your cousins who seem content with their lives and whose ambitions stop at finding a good discount on a pair of shoes at a store. Careers, life aspirations, politics, personal health – all topics where we constantly find ourselves disagreeing with our family members.

If we share the same genetic code, how come our views of these things can be that different? To avoid conflicts, we put those topics into an ever-growing imaginary jar of things we disagree about. And then we either tiptoe around it or minimize interactions with those who hold different opinions. Both make us feel more disconnected as if we can never have a genuine conversation with our own family.

The reality is, DNA is powerful but it is not the only factor at play when people form their views. Your family members grew up at different times, surrounded by different people, reading different books, and going to different schools. Realizing that, you can stop expecting them to want the same things as you do.

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Instead of cultivating a mindset that conflicting views are a family relationship killer, you can try to see how differences make you more diverse and, in a way, stronger as a group.

Instead of taking on an impossible-to-succeed task of changing your family members, learn to value them for who they are.

2. Do Not Get on a Mission to Explain to Them Everything They are Failing at

Have you ever felt an urge to coach your family members about things they are doing wrong in their lives? The sense of responsibility to point out the mistakes on their path can be quite strong. Because, if not for you, who else would tell your single sister to go out more and try new places? Who else would make it clear for your father that he should have taken that job?

When you do it, your intentions might be good. That’s your way of offering support or sharing experience. You may even genuinely feel like you are providing solutions. Yet, on the other side, there is a person being reminded of some way she or he is inadequate in this world. Layer that on top of the issues the individual is already dealing with. No wonder they close down and pull away.

Understanding that it is not your mission to remind your family members of their failures is crucial for fostering relationships with them. They already know when they made their mistakes. Holding space for someone is different than initiating an unsolicited, impromptu “coaching session”. I

nstead of forcing someone into your interpretation of their wrongs, simply let them be. That means respecting your family members’ agency of their own mistakes, while not making them an agenda of every gathering. Your empathy is more valuable than your advice, however well-thought-through it might be.

3. Watch Out for the Ways You May Kill an Initiative

It is a high chance that, for you, plans-gone-wrong or no plans at all rank pretty high among the things you prefer to avoid. So, you resort to planning stuff in advance. Year after year, you arrange that family trip where you do all the work and everyone else just needs to show up. In your clan, you are a solid organizer of every gathering there is.

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And, when, one day, you decide to let go of your usual role, nothing happens. No initiative comes from the other side and you can’t help but wonder if you are the only one who needs it. Congratulations, you may have perfected the craft of suffocating your family members’ initiative without even realizing it.[1]

The desire to control our schedules and environment often leads us to preempt initiatives from our family members. You want things done your way so that there are no unknowns. And they, on the other hand, get used to this aspect being covered by you. So you end up disappointed with the lack of their initiative and they are genuinely surprised thinking that you loved to always do that.

When you start noticing places where you might preempt initiatives from your family members, you will begin allowing them to connect with you on their own terms. They might not always be the way you prefer it, but a two-way relationship is a stronger tie than when you are the only one always holding it together.

4. Unquestioned Bailouts May Be a Path to Severed Relationships

You may take your family members’ financial struggle personally, especially when you do well. You would never think twice to give a helping hand to a relative in a time of difficulty. Yet oftentimes the real difficulty is misrepresented, and your help turns into a form of sponsorship.

For example, you work in a big city, and your second cousin from a small town asks you to help her son get a job. Or your sister has a bad credit score, so she asks you to put a car lease on your name. You surely see how you are in the position to facilitate things here. At the same time, you know that you are assuming both reputational and financial responsibility that will stay there for a while. And, no matter what you do, this will always be a background theme of your relationship with this relative.

Saying “No” to a favor or a financial help request from your relative may raise their eyebrows. More so, it can make you feel like your own values are clashing somewhere deep inside. It’s hard to underestimate the manipulative powers of these situations! The guilt for not caring enough for a person or a cause may turn your firm shoulder into a hanger for others’ responsibilities.

At this point, something you wanted to avoid by doing a favor – alienation from them – becomes inevitable. When you recognize this trap, a firm “No”, however hard, will be something that eventually preserves a family tie.

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5. Do Not Let the Resentment Grow

You might recall from your experiences the times when you chose to shut down a major disagreement with a family member. You did not resolve it, you both simply moved on pretending it never happened, switched to a different topic to not draw anyone’s attention to an argument. “After all, we are family“, you thought and “this is not the right time to start unbundling things.

The problem is that you both carried away a seed of resentment toward each other. And resentment, unaddressed, has the propensity to grow. Each party to the conflict starts looking at each other through the prism of an unresolved issue. A smile becomes a manufactured face expression. A mental accounting of who hit how many times activates. And your attempt to diplomatically move away from an argument in order to avoid a bigger problem brought you straight into that problem.

Not letting the resentment build with your family members requires patience. When you want to deal with a problem on the spot, your relative might not be prepared for it.

A simple thing you can do is start listening to the other party and, instead of trying to come up with counter-arguments, make an effort to understand their view. Look at the world through their mental frame. After they’ve let the steam out, they might be able to see your point too. And finding in yourself an ability to acknowledge other’s points of view definitely makes you more connected than estranged.

6. You Do Your Part

In family relationships, it’s easy to name others a culprit. Take a moment, and you will have no problem pointing out what they are doing wrong. For example, your Dad might not know how to express his feelings. Your brother might always talk about his issues only. You Mom might be convinced that she is always right. The list can go on.

Further, you might have no trouble creating a comprehensive guide of simple tips on how they can connect with you better. Yet, every time you have an urge to do just that, think what each of those tips means for you doing your part. For one, you might habitually mirror the same behaviors without realizing it. Secondly, you may create the very environment for your family members to act exactly the way they do.

Doing your part means taking responsibility in fostering family relationships, not simply being a passive recipient and a casual critic. That means, asking yourself questions:

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  • How do I contribute to escalating things I want to avoid?
  • How do I facilitate what I later complain about?

And, if doing your part means initiating, checking in, visiting, or listening – you do that!

7. You Do Not Have Infinite Time

No conversation about strengthening family relationships is complete without a reminder that these relationships are not infinite. Sometimes, people who you are used to seeing around become the ones you take for granted.

Though intellectually, you understand well that one day they will be all gone, applying this to practice is a different story. In the realm of a busy life, it becomes “I value my family in general, but right now I have no time to talk to my parents.”

A simple reminder to self that you don’t have infinite time with your family makes it clear that it is not about “in general”, but rather about “right now”. Because we can theorize and make mental notes on how to deal with relatives in various situations in the future. But nothing lays a better foundation for strengthening the family relationships than dialing a family member and saying “Hi” to them, right now.

More Tips to Help Strengthen Your Family Relationships

Featured photo credit: Naassom Azevedo via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Oxana Kunets

Explorer of all things meaningful living, confidence, and courage

How to Turn a Bad Attitude into a Positive One 14 Ways Strong-Minded People Think Differently How to Answer the Interview Question “What Motivates You?” 7 Reminders on Building Strong Family Relationships

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

The act of writing in a journal often seems daunting or unnecessary to many people. Even authors who work on novels might shun the idea of daily diaries. What purpose does jotting down words on a regular basis do if not contributing to the next novel, play or song? I know from experience many benefits of journaling that I wish to share.

1. Understand Yourself Better

Though many people and even writers avoid keeping journals, I vow to do it more often. Not only do I desire to take up daily journaling but also I plan to do it with pen to paper.

Some of the benefits I’ve found from my more active days include finding myself in the sense of understanding what matters to me and what I want out of life. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find a spouse who is my best friend and advocate in raising children. I attribute this and much more to what I learned about myself in keeping journals for years.

2. Keep Track of Small Changes

I’ll admit that I never got very far with my guitar lessons, but in writing in a journal, I have seen the ability to track small changes like those that come when you practice anything.

Those learning a musical instrument often fail to see the small improvements that come with regular practice. Writing won’t help you switch chords any faster, but it will help you to develop a better sense for language and grammar just by doing it.

3. Become Aware of What Matters

As you continue to write in a journal, following a stream-of-consciousness feel, you can look back on the topics that you chose to write about. Those issues and emotions that poured out of you will provide insight on to what matters most to you.

You may not even realize that you’re job is depressing you or that you want to spend more time with your kids until you look over your thoughts that you weren’t really thinking about.

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4. Boost Creativity

The idea that the brain and its neural activity across hemispheres encourages learning also shows up in increased creativity. Just like with learning an instrument, your increased activity will inspire your thoughts to connect and reconnect in different ways.

When I wrote in a journal, I often wrote poetry as well as just my thoughts as they came out. I started to hear poems more in my mind; so much so that I took to scrawling lines on napkins and finding metaphors in mundane activities.

You really are what you do, so writing helps grow more than being a writer. Writing boosts the way you communicate and structure language, which really is a creative process.

5. Represents Your Emotions in a Safe Environment

A journal is as private as it gets. You can lock it in a safe or tuck it under a pillow and no one will accidentally share it on social media or have an opportunity to “leave a comment.”

Write about your sorrow as much as your happiness and frustration and know that you don’t have to keep your emotions inside your body. You can put them on paper.

6. Process Life Experiences

When you take the time to look back over what you’ve written, be it a week or a year later, you will have the distance you need to more objectively interpret your raw feelings.

Everything from losing a job to losing a loved one can emerge in a new light for a fresh perspective. Figuring out how the benefits of journaling affect your perspective on life will create connection and increase creativity.

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7. Stress Relief

In combining the exercise inherent in fine motor coordination that comes from the act of writing with the emotional release of self expression, those who maintain a journal relieve stress.

Try it out. Go home and write about your day. Write about the traffic. Write about the coffee order the barista got wrong but you didn’t have time to change. See how you can physically purge some of that pent-up stress by putting it on paper.

8. Provide Direction

Though journaling is often conducted as an activity without much direction, it often provides direction.

One of the biggest benefits of journaling is that your chaotic thoughts merge to show a direction in which to head. Asking the right questions is the only way to achieve the best solutions, so look to your journal to find your way toward your next goal.

9. Solve Problems

Just as in practicing math problems, we all get better at finding hidden solutions through the act of processing.

Think of your next goal as X and solve your life problems by reading your journals as word problems. The benefit of journaling here is that you write, explore and process to recognize and then solve problems.

When life is too in-your-face, you have to step back to see reality. Living in the moment allows us to write in the moment and use that expression to solve problems.

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10. Find Relief From Fighting

Solving your problems only comes after time to process, recognize and strategize. Just as in the benefit of journaling where relief comes from the act of writing, relief from fighting comes when you decide to “sit this one out” and communicate one-way.

Fighting is only productive when the fighters care to communicate and find common ground. When the emotions are as high as the stress levels, writing will function as the best time out.

11. Find Meaning in Life

Journaling will show you why you are living, whether you are wallowing in things you wish to change or striving to make the changes. Your life will begin to take on new meaning and your own words will reveal the actions that got you where you are so that you can assess and pave a new path for your future.

12. Allow Yourself to Focus

Taking even a small amount of time out of every day will provide you with not only peace of mind but also increased focus. Taking a break to meditate in writing and journaling will sharpen your mental faculties.

13. Sharpen Your Spirituality

When we write, we allow all the energy and experiences to flow through us, which often provides further insight into our own spirituality. Even if your parents didn’t raise you to follow a specific religion, your thoughts will start to show you what you believe about the universe and your place in it.

14. Let the Past Go

I’ve mentioned a few examples where going back over your writing offers advice and direction, but the simply truth is that writing down our feelings can be the best way to let them go. We can choose to literally throw these pages away when they’re filled with negativity and hate.

15. Allow Freedom

Journaling is the perfect way to not only express yourself but to also experience the freedom of being who you are. Your books can stay private or you can publish them. Your freedom stems from your sense of self and your perception of your thoughts.

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16. Enhance Your Career

Again, the private act of pen-to-paper processing provides the benefits of journaling mentioned above, but you can also enhance your career when you take similar ideas and categorize, edit and publish them in an online blog.

Your thoughts will often be personal and express emotions, but another benefit of journaling is uncovering fresh ideas about your work.

17. Literally Explore Your Dreams

All the benefits I’ve mentioned explore ideas, thoughts and emotions, which is also what our dreams and nightmares do. Through writing down your dreams from the previous night, you can enhance your creativity as well as connect some of the metaphorical dots from the rest of your journal.

18. Catalog Your Life for Others

No one wants to think about dying, but we all die. Leaving a journal will act as a way to reconnect with family and friends left behind. The ideas you wish to keep personal while you process the life you’re living will serve to rekindle and inspire those who loved you through the process.

We consider our partners our life witnesses, but writing provides a tangible mark on the world.

Now that you’ve learned all the benefits of journaling, it’s time to start writing a journal:

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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