If thinking about spending time with your family puts a knot in your stomach, instead of joy in your heart, it’s time to get those feelings out!
Taking the time to have a good laugh, or cry, with a trusted listener will help shed the tension. If you don’t have a listening partner you can learn how to find one here. Or you can share this article with a good friend and exchange time together.
When you tap into the more challenging feelings you have about family, and that you’d rather be done with, you'll be on your way to an (almost) tension free time together.
Here are five ways you can shed the tension you're feeling.
- Act it out: During your listening time pretend you're at dinner with your whole family and start saying everything you’re thinking. If you struggle with feeling relaxed at family meals, try barking out every correction you'd like to give your kids: “Sit up straight; close your mouth when you’re eating; clean your plate; use your fork; don't interrupt; stop leaning on the table”. Pay attention to the feelings this brings up for you. Maybe it’s laughter as you hear yourself. Or maybe it’s tears as you recall what holiday dinners were like for you as a kid. Either way you’re making good progress toward releasing the tension you’re carrying around family mealtimes, and that’s bound to make the holiday dinner at least a little lighter for you.
- Don’t be nice: If you have to deal with family members critiquing you, your kids, or your parenting you can give them a piece of your mind during your listening time. To make the most of this time don’t be nice, polite or thoughtful! What’s so amazing is that taking time to blow off some steam with a listener can relieve you in a way that you are able to be genuinely kind and thoughtful when face-to-face with that family member later.
- Get laughter going: A good way to get laughter going during a listening partnership is to pretend being a relative giving you compliments on your parenting. Let yourself be over the top and imagine them smothering you with praise. “You are the BEST mother/father I have EVER seen in my whole life! Your are SO amazing!” There's something about saying these things out loud to another person that hits the funny bone in a way you can't do on your own by thinking about it.
- Find the tender feelings: To access the more vulnerable feelings you keep closely guarded, speak to your listening partner as if they were the family member you are struggling to connect with. Tell them what you'd really like from them: “I really want to connect with you and feel close. Even if we don't always agree, I want to feel like we can still be close and respect each other.” Again, it's best if you can voice this to your listener and show your vulnerability. It doesn't mean you have to tell the other person these things, but allowing yourself time to get in touch with what you really want will help your frustration and stress dissipate.
- Practice: You can also practice what you might say in certain situations. Ask your listener to pretend to be the family member who critiques you the most and have them say what the family member says, for example, “You are too soft on her! She'll never learn!” Then give yourself permission to try some different responses. What's your angry response? What’s your hurt response? Verbalize it and get it out! When the charge isn't there as much, take some time to think on how you'd like to respond and try that out with your listener too.
As you unload these feelings, bit by bit, your good, kind, resourceful thinking WILL get clearer and you'll know how to navigate these tricky family situations.
Find out how to make the most of your listening time with our self-guided course Building a Listening Partnership.