‘I haven’t spoken to my daughter-in-law since Thanksgiving,” a woman recently confided to me. “She said she regretted ever marrying into our family. I was shocked. I think she owes me an apology. Now my son won’t let us see the grandchildren, and the whole family has taken sides.”
Family dramas are disagreements and misunderstandings that get out of control and risk tearing the family apart. They frequently arise during events that are already emotionally charged, such as weddings, holidays, family gatherings and group travel. They’re most common between members who are hypersensitive and have a previous history of overreacting to minor mishaps.
Regardless of the presenting issue, all family dramas follow a similar pattern. One member perceives that he or she has been offended by another and responds in an exaggerated fashion. Tears, moping, aggression, yelling and silence may ensue. Sometimes accused perpetrators are unaware they’ve behaved poorly. At other times the slight was intentional.
The perpetrators counter in an equally melodramatic way. Far from apologizing or remedi ating the hurt feelings, they throw salt on the psychological wound by reiterating the initial claim or introducing an equally painful topic. Tensions climb further. Each party jumps to conclusions about the other’s motives, and the situation gains a life of its own.
Other members of the clan chime in with their opinions. They may even take sides. The problem is no longer between two people. Instead, the entire family is drawn into the melee.
Most family dramas eventual ly burn themselves out, but they exact a horrific toll. Relationships are scarred. Family units are needlessly torn apart. Younger children grow up watching the adults in their life argue over petty disagreements.
Although all families have misunderstandings, family dramas don’t have to be so devastating. When members react quickly and appropriately to douse the flames and stanch the bleeding, they can contain the interpersonal damage and help the healing begin.
AVOIDING FAMILY DRAMA
Keep things in perspective. Your family is much larger than any one misunderstanding. Commit yourself to the long-term goal of getting along with other members. Everyone will benefit from your actions.
Stay calm. Hot tempers, vile words and irrational behavior only fuel the drama. Take a few deep breaths before you respond. If need be, excuse yourself from the setting until you’ve regained your cool.
Don’t overreact to petty problems. Some members are thoughtless. Others are spiteful. Hurtful words are invariably said. Don’t respond. Rise above it. If they’re in the wrong, so be it. Be strong and rise above the fray.
Defuse another’s agitation. Is another person going ballistic? Don’t make things worse. Instead, speak in a calm voice. Express a willingness to solve the problem. Assume a conciliatory demeanor and tone.
Apologize quickly, even if you’re not in the wrong. Say, “I’m so sorry. I never meant for this to happen. You mean so much to me. Let’s move past this ASAP.” Often, your conciliatory words will immediately defuse all hostility.
Accept another’s apology. Be gracious. Say, “Thank you.” Never expect the other person to grovel.
Don’t bring up the issue again. Once a problem is settled, it’s over. Never throw it back in a member’s face, especially during the heat of another argument.
Prevent future dramas. Analyze why dramas occur in your family. Are they more likely when certain members have been drinking? Do they erupt when you’re confined in close living quarters? Do certain members feel insecure and require more support? Take the necessary steps to avert them next time.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.