Every family experiences trying moments. Even emotionally healthy clans have their share of drama, misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
What’s different about healthy families is how they handle their inevitable struggles. They don’t allow them to undermine the foundation of the household. Rather, they take steps to solve them quickly and completely.
There’s nothing magic about what they do. The strategies are free and available to all. But they do require respect, diligence and commitment. Here's how they do it:
▪ Members avoid conflicts as often as they can. Healthy families steer clear of contentious topics such as politics. They keep negative opinions of other family members to themselves. Instead, they look for enjoyable activities that foster closeness.
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▪ They contain the damage. When problems do arise, family members quickly seek to de-escalate the situation. They may defuse a heated argument with humor or a gentle, “Hey, this is getting too serious!” Other members might try to change the subject or, if necessary, leave the room.
▪ Members treat each other with respect. Healthy family members refrain from aggressive, derogatory language at all times. Even when they disagree or are in the midst of a difficult discussion, they keep tempers in check and their voices calm. Should tempers start to flare, they take a break so they can cool down before resuming at another time.
▪ They accept blame and apologize swiftly. Family members admit, “I was so wrong. And I know I disappointed everyone. Please forgive me for what I did.”
▪ Even if they’re not in the wrong, they express appropriate remorse. “I am so sorry that this happened. I never want anything to interfere with our relationship. You are too important to me.”
▪ They keep things in perspective. Family members know that the well-being of the group is more important than this one incident. They’re able to say, “This is not a big deal. We’ll get past it.”
▪ They accept apologies fully and move on with their lives. Healthy families don’t hold grudges. They take the steps necessary to promote healing. Then they willingly let an issue fade into the background, never to be dredged up again.
▪ They avoid similar problems in the future. Healthy families are perceptive. They learn from their mistakes. If an event has gone poorly they analyze why, then take steps to make things better.
▪ They reach out to offended family members. When healthy family members have alienated another member, they’re quick to extend the olive branch. They’re willing to make a phone call, stop by for a visit or send a card that says, “I’m sorry and I want to make things right.”
▪ They keep the doors open. Sometimes loved ones aren’t ready to accept an apology. In these difficult situations, healthy family members indicate that they’ll patiently await their resolution. They continue to send cards and make occasional phone calls. They never give up on an estranged member, hoping they’ll eventually return to the fold.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.