Family life

Difficult family relationships

Do you dream of a harmonious relationship with your family or your in-laws but your situation is just the opposite? We explore difficult family relationships and how they affect us.

The dream versus reality

We all dream of a close-knit family that helps each other naturally without judgments or conflicts. Often, this dream is far from reality and family relationships can be as sensitive or explosive as friendships or love. Sometimes, the tension is on our side of the family and other times, it’s the in-laws that make us want to pull all our hair out. But how can you change things and create a more harmonious and positive relationship?

Set clear boundaries

We would all like to see our values respected and our emotions validated, but sometimes we forget to adequately share our feelings by establishing clear boundaries and expressing our needs. Don’t forget that others can’t guess what irritates you, so you’ll benefit from being honest with your loved ones. We spoke with Stephanie Deslauriers, psycho-educator and youth author, to ask her how we should address the conflicts in order to establish a positive dialogue. She explains that it’s important to remain calm and to detail, specific issues that bother you objectively, try using the « I feel » formula to avoid the other person feeling attacked.

It’s also important that your expectations are realistic: indeed, even if you’d like to change certain behavior, you must also realize that this person is the way they are and it’s possible that they may be unable to change or just not want to. Are you ready to readjust your expectations and accept to compromise in order to maintain a relationship with this person?

When no compromise is possible

Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to be honest and to maintain an open and respectful dialogue, emotions are too intense and it’s alright to voice the need to take some distance, so you have the time to regain your senses and think about everything. As Stephanie reminds us, we can’t change someone who doesn’t have the motivation to change and if you are suffering, it’s better to take some time to clear the air and to center yourself so you can evaluate your perceptions and expectations.

What if it’s your in-laws?

It may be that in your case, it’s your partner's family that is causing constant conflict. Of course, you expect to receive support from your spouse, but you must be careful about how you approach the subject with them because it will not be easy for them to hear you criticize people they love. Stephanie suggests that you avoid blaming them, or making open judgments. Try to stay respectful of them and their family. Remember that everything can be said, if you find the right way to say it. Your dialogue must remain constructive and avoid falling into venting or complaining since it would create a lot of frustration and misunderstanding between the two of you.

Many moms report that their relationship with their family became strained at the same time they started their own family. It seems that the problem stems from the generational clash and the different values that have evolved over time. This may make you feel like they don’t see you as an adult, and you may feel guilty since you are already destabilized by the arrival of this new baby you are still adjusting to.

Stephanie tells us that the best way to counter this possibility is to have a preventive discussion with your spouse first so that you can establish your values and then you can do the same with your loved ones. It’s important to let them know that your different choices do not mean you think their choices were wrong, simply that you adapted their techniques to fit your new reality with your spouse.

Children and conflict

We often say it: children are like sponges! Even if they don’t necessarily understand all the details of a situation, they feel that there is something amiss and that the relationship is strained. Obviously, you might be tempted to shield your child by denying anything is wrong, but Stephanie warns us that this may actually send a double message to your child and make them distrust their judgment in the long run. It’s therefore important to validate their interpretation using a language that is appropriate for their age. As their role model, your child is counting on you to normalize the situation and to teach them that conflicts are a necessary part of life and that when well managed, can actually be very healthy.

The importance of family relationships

In all spheres of our lives, one of the most important factors that will determine our success is our social network. The more we are surrounded, the more chances we have to get out of difficult situations. According to Stephanie, even our relationship with our partner can benefit from a strong social network because when our family approves of our spouse, we are more likely to want to make our family life succeed.

Don’t forget about the positive impacts on our children as well. Our children learn to trust other people who will give them different learning experiences and skills than you and your spouse. They will also benefit from seeing their parents in healthy and harmonious relationships that may sometimes include conflict. They will learn to develop strategies and apply them in their own relationships with others.

Source: Stephanie Deslauriers, Psycho-educator, Youth author, a columnist on and Huffington Post Quebec. Website, email.

Image de Mariem Melainine

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