How to help your family get along better

All families are messy, but as long as they make sure all members feel loved, no matter who they are, then that’s about as close to perfection as anyone can get

Special to The TribuneJuly 27, 2012 

JENNIFER WRIGHT

“Is your family perfect?” a sincere client recently asked me. He wondered whether those of us in the family therapy business might be immune to the relationship struggles that plague other households.

The answer, of course, is no. Our clan is nothing special. We’re acollection of garden-variety kinfolk who happen to be connected by DNA or marriage. Each of us brings strengths and foibles to the family table. Together, we experience our share of drama, disappointments, successes and relational squabbles.

That being said, each of our members on both sides of the marital aisle is committed to the well-being of the entire clan. There’s no family task we wouldn’t pitch in to help with. Together we’ve assisted ill and aging parents and sifted through the belongings of departed moms and dads. We’ve dropped everything to get someone to the hospital. We’ve gathered personal belongings when a member’s house was threatened by fire. No one’s ever raised a peep in protest. We’re always happy to help out.

We treasure our times together. Having fun is what families are about. Whether we’re picking blackberries in the orchard, camping at Santa Margarita Lake or participating in the SLO Triathlon with our kids, we’re looking for ways to interact. Family events draw all members together and create memories to share for years to come.

Don’t think for a minute we’re a group of doormats. Au contraire. Each person harbors strong opinions. Some welcome any opportunity to speak their minds. But the ultimate purpose of our gatherings is to have a pleasant experience. So the peacekeepers in the midst try to keep things calm.

As in any family, certain members require more attention. They’re more challenging to be around. Perhaps they’re moody or demanding. They might hold grudges or feel slighted by the group. Whatever the reason, their presence creates stress. They’re the weak link in the family chain.

Family success lies in welcoming all members into the fold, regardless of who they are. Making difficult ones feel loved and welcome is the trial every household faces.

The bottom line is that all families are messy. They’re comprised of countless numbers of moving parts. We do our best to get along with each other. That’s as close to perfection as it gets.

Want your family to get along better? Try this:

• Be pleasant. You need not be best friends with every family member. But you do need to get along. Smile when your father-in-law talks politics or your nephew shows up with blue hair. Your job is to accept them.

• Steer clear of contentious topics. Gatherings should be pleasant for all attendees. Avoid conversations that elicit hard feelings. Instead, seek out mutually stimulating topics that strike a positive note.

• Celebrate often. Get together for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, baby showers or a Happy Wednesday Potluck. You’ll have fun together as a clan. You’ll revel in the good feelings you share.

• Forgive quickly and completely. Families are fertile breeding grounds for hurt feelings. It’s imperative that you heal ASAP and move on. Free yourself of grudges. Be cordial to all family members, regardless of what’s happened in the past.

• Seek areas of common interest. The more similarities you have with other members, the easier it is to get along. Send an article on vegetable gardening to your aunt. Talk Ferraris with your brother-in-law. They’ll feel good about your relationship. You’ll have more fun when you get together.

• Accommodate difficult personalities. Every family has its challenging members. Plan gatherings to make them feel at ease. Select topics and activities that might interest them. Be congenial while you’re together. But don’t expect miracles to happen.

• Have fun. Play games. Taste wines at a local winery. Hike in the Johnson Ranch Open Space. Attend a Friday evening concert at Mission Plaza. The more good times your clan has together, the closer your family will be.

• Accept your family as it is. No family is perfect. Some struggle more than others. Accept your situation and the individuals you have to deal with. Then do your best to make it work.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com.

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