The bad moods of many people are often caused by one of their relatives — Mom, Dad, a brother or sister, an in-law. The trouble is, we tend to put up with lousy behavior from a relative — behavior we would never tolerate in our spouse or children or in our friends. We don’t speak up. We feel that we have to put up with it because they are “family.” But we don’t.
There is no law that says you have to stay on good terms with a person just because he’s a relative. You don’t. And trying to stay on good terms might bring you down and, by contagion, put your spouse and children in a bad mood often enough to affect their health and their ability to get along with others.
It’s only a matter of luck whether your relatives can also be your friends. If you didn’t get lucky, don’t worry about it. You have your spouse and kids to take care of. And there are plenty of people other than your relatives you can have for friends — people who will treat you well.
Should you write off a relative who brings you down? No. There’s a better way. Simply follow these two rules:
1. Be honest
2. Don’t judge
These two will help you clean up a relationship. Those who bring you down will tend to gradually remove themselves voluntarily from your life.
The truth is, when someone is bringing us down regularly, we are collaborating in the process by withholding honest statements. For example: “Would you please call me later? I’m busy right now.” We don’t say stuff like that because we’re trying to be polite. We don’t want to be rude. But whatever the reason we have for withholding honest communication, hiding the truth only digs us deeper and deeper into the mess.
The way out is with straightforward information, such as the following: “I don’t really feel we should talk about him behind his back.” “That question kind of makes me uncomfortable.” “I don’t want you to visit.” “I think you drink too much and I don’t want my kids to be around it.” Simple, honest communication is all you need.
Some honest statements may seem unnecessarily harsh. But those are the kind of things you need to say sometimes if you want to protect your psychological and physical health and that of your spouse and kids. The problem is we sometimes don’t have enough courage to say those things until we are really mad. They seem so harsh, you’d think you’d have to be angry to say them. But you don’t. You don’t even have to think the person is wrong. In fact, that’s the other half it: Restrain yourself from judging the person. If you judge your relative and make him wrong, you hurt him and yourself, and that’s unnecessary. You can speak honestly without judgment. It may take some practice, but you can do it. Concentrate on it. Memorize those two rules. Chant them to yourself when you’re visiting with the person or talking to them over the phone. Be honest gently, without judgment.
So the way to deal with a relative who puts you in a bad mood is to let him be the way he is while also taking care of yourself by being honest. Remind yourself that if you had similar upbringing and genetics, you might very well be like him, so there’s no justification for writing him off as a bad person. You don’t know how he came to be that way and you don’t know his motives. All you really know is he brings you down.
Concern yourself with being honest — without judgment — and the honesty will take care of your situation for you. Your relative will either respond to your honesty well and your relationship will improve, or he won’t like your honesty — he won’t want to be around you — and he will voluntarily phase you out of his life. Either way, you’re better off. It may be a little rough for awhile, but you and your spouse and your children will come out on the other side healthier and happier.
This article was excerpted from the book, Principles For Personal Growth by Adam Khan. Buy it now here.