Dealing with toxic friends, co-workers, bosses or neighbors is something we feel decently well equipped to handle. But what about when those difficult people happen to be your parents? Or your siblings? Or anyone in your immediate family who isn’t so easy to ignore or walk away from? These three steps can help establish healthier relationships with people you just can’t cut out of your life, for better or for worse.
1. Figure out what they can and cannot give you
No one makes you laugh like your dad, but when it comes to serious conversations, he never understands the choices you’ve made, and will never give you the validation you so desperately crave. And maybe that’s OK. “It’s important to temper your expectations about what others can and want to do,” says psychiatrist and author Dr. Abigail Brenner, “Accept that they are unable to change, at least at that point in time.”
In other words, stop thinking of your dad as someone you can go to for career advice or relationship feedback (you’ve got friends for that) and start thinking of him for what he can provide—a hilarious string of jokes guaranteed to pick you up after a stressful day.
2. Establish boundaries
Serious talks with your sister always end in screaming and tears. Rather than try to get her to understand where you’re coming from (spoiler alert: she never will), stop giving her opportunities to tear you down in the first place. If she tries to bring up a sensitive subject, simply don’t engage (the Gray Rock Method is one of our favorite approaches). Or, if she’s persistent, take a more straightforward approach by letting her know it’s not something you want to discuss. As the ever-wise Mary-Kate Olsen once said, “'No’ is a full sentence.”
3. If all else fails, it may be time to get professionals involved
You've tried everything to improve the state of your relationship, but still it's not working out. It might be time to bring in the pros. Whether you choose to go alone, as a pair or even in a group, therapy can help heal by bringing in a neutral party, and give everybody important tools to understand each other and implement boundaries. Remember: You don’t have to do this all on your own.