Loving your family might come naturally, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy! Whether you’re facing larger family problems or specific difficulties with one or more family members, you have to make a genuine effort if you want to successfully maintain a loving family life. But it’s also critical to love yourself and support your own emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing.
Method 1 of 3:
Improving Family Bonds
Show appreciation with words and actions when family members deserve it is first method of how to love your family. Don’t avoid giving appreciation when a family member has earned it just because you aren’t getting appreciation from your family. Instead, model the behavior you’d like to see from your family. Appreciation can be contagious!
Instead of a generic “Thanks,” be more specific: “Dad, thanks for helping me change my flat tire. I really appreciate that you made the time to help me.”
You can show appreciation through your actions as well. For example, show appreciation to your aunt by doing something together she enjoys, like baking for the holidays or going through old photo albums. Make sure to offer a sincere verbal “thank you” as well.
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Apologize clearly and honestly whenever you mess up. This falls in the same boat as showing appreciation: model the behavior you hope to receive from your family. When you mess up, lash out, or do something else worthy of an apology, be direct, specific, and prompt. For example: “Jan, I’m really sorry that I went into your room when you asked me not to. I know I need to do a better job of respecting your privacy.”
Don’t get stuck in the rut of “I’m not going to apologize to them because they never apologize to me for anything, even things much worse than this.” In the end, you can only control what you do, not what they do. But you may be able to positively influence them through what you do.
Focus on the present instead of getting trapped in the past. If your family life used to be better, it’s easy to negatively compare everything about today with an idealized version of the past. If your family life has always been rocky, it’s easy to lose hope that things can ever get better. While you can’t—and shouldn’t—ignore the past, focus on your family members as they are today and strive to deal with today’s problems.
For example, if you can’t get past thinking about your adult brother as the annoying kid brother he used to be, you’ll have a hard time recognizing and handling the friction that exists between you today.
Family life is not static. Individuals change over time and relationships ebb and flow. This should give you hope that an improved family life in the future is possible!
Treat each family member as the unique individual they are. When you’re frustrated, it’s easy to lump everyone together and say “I can’t stand my family!” However, each family member is a unique individual, and your relationship with each of them is also unique. Work on improving these individual relationships in order to improve the whole family relationship.
Don’t expect the same strategies to work equally well with every family member. Showing appreciation may be more impactful than apologizing to your grandfather, for instance, while the reverse may be true with your grandmother.
Be consistent in how you interact with your family members. Consistency is key to strengthening any relationship. When you find a combination of strategies that works well with a particular family member, stick with it. For example, if you find that taking an after-dinner walk with your mother and talking about your days has a positive effect, make it a daily routine.
Consistency provides some level of comfort, even if other family members don’t always agree with your words, actions, or choices. When other family members know what to expect from you, your relationship will feel less on-edge.
Make the effort to spend quality time together as a family. Don’t get caught in the vicious cycle of not spending time with family members because you don’t like them, and not liking them because you don’t spend any time with them. While you shouldn’t expect a family game night to magically make everything better, genuinely seek out opportunities to do enjoyable things with other family members. You may find you have more in common than you thought!
If family gatherings usually end up causing problems, try making the get-togethers more regimented by scheduling out different activities. You might set aside time for group games, crafts, or watching a movie or sporting event together, as opposed to leaving things open to group discussions that often descend into acrimony.
Method 2 of 3:
Handling Disagreements and Conflict
Write down for yourself why loving your family is difficult but important. Grab a sheet of paper and jot down “Why loving my family is difficult for me” and “Why loving my family is important to me.” List several things that come to mind for each category. Use these lists for motivation, support, and guidance as you work to improve your family relationships.
You might, for example, find it difficult to love your family because they don’t seem to understand you and they fight a lot. You might believe it’s important to find a way to love them because you crave their support and appreciate what they’ve done for you.
When things get tough, look at what you wrote to help you remember why you’re motivated to make things better.
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Listen to family members and try to understand their perspectives. You can’t expect family members to listen to you if you don’t really listen to them. Instead of getting frustrated or thinking “here we go again,” give them the chance to express themselves. Hear what they have to say and try to put yourself in their shoes.
Empathy—being able to understand what someone else is feeling—is critical to healthy family relationships. You don’t have to agree with everything your family members believe or say, but it’s important for you to accept their feelings as genuinely theirs.
Take several deep breaths when you’re having trouble staying calm. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, hold the breath briefly, and then exhale slowly through pursed lips. Walk away for a few seconds to breathe and collect yourself if needed, or do your breathing discreetly in the middle of an intensifying family situation.
There are many variations of deep breathing techniques you can try. One popular example is breathing in through your nose for a count of 4, holding the breath for a count of 4, and then slowly exhaling for a count of 4.
Explain your concerns in a non-confrontational way. Resist the urge to bottle up what you’re feeling because you don’t want to hurt your family members’ feelings. Doing so isn’t good for you and it isn’t good for your family. At the same time, though, don’t just blurt out what you’re feeling in a hostile, accusatory manner. Be calm, clear, and specific about what’s happening, what you’re feeling, what needs to happen, and what might happen if nothing changes.
Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. This keeps the situation less accusatory and hostile.
For example: “I feel like there’s a lack of respect for my fiancé, and that all the snide comments and rude behavior are straining my relationship with this family. I need everyone to show more respect for the person I’ve chosen to be with, or I will have to cut back on my family interactions.”
Agree to limits on topics that frequently cause conflict. Some hot-button topics—like politics, your relationship or child-rearing choices, your career path, and so on—might cause constant problems. While it’s important to talk about these kinds of key issues in some fashion, setting reasonable rules and boundaries can help reduce the constant “family fireworks” that seem to happen.
The classic example of “don’t discuss politics at the dinner table” may seem quaint, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea! Update it by setting some ground rules for social media interactions with family members, for example.
No matter what some family members might think, not every topic has to be discussed openly with everyone. Confide in the family member or members you feel most comfortable having challenging discussions with.
List your wants and needs and ask each family member to do the same. This is best to do as a one-on-one exercise with each family member. Write down a list of up to 7 things you want or need from the other person, have them do the same, then share and talk about your lists with openness and empathy. Ideally, each family member will complete the exercise with every other family member.
You might, for example, “need” to be given more personal space from time to time and “want” to be congratulated more openly for the hard work you do at school.
If a family member won’t participate, do the exercise without them and write down what you think their list of wants and needs would be.
Method 3 of 3:
Setting Personal Boundaries
Treat your own wellbeing as essential, not selfish. Since you’re a part of your family, you have to truly love yourself if you want to truly love your family! If you don’t take the necessary time to love and care for yourself, you won’t be mentally, emotionally, or physically capable of doing the work needed to strengthen your relationship with your family.
Going for a solo run each morning to clear your head and get some exercise isn’t selfish, and neither is meeting up with friends a couple times a week. Managing family life is hard work, and you need to get yourself into the right frame of mind in order to do this work.
Constantly sacrificing your own needs in order to serve others’ needs is not the recipe for a healthy personal life or family life. It’s all about finding the right balance between self sacrifice and self care.
Detach from a toxic relationship as an alternative to a full exit. This tends to work better with extended rather than immediate family. It basically means being physically present without really “being there.” Be polite and spend the minimum required amount of time around the problematic family member or members, but essentially ignore them in your own mind.
Detaching from immediate family members is more of a challenge, and it’s important for you to cultivate genuine attachments with any family members who are less problematic for you. Think of it as investing your attachment “capital” wisely.
End the relationship if your own wellbeing is seriously endangered. Not all family relationships can be—or should be—repaired. If your efforts have been rejected and things are only getting worse, consider whether cutting ties completely is your only healthy option. If you are being physically or psychologically abused, get immediate help—this can range from telling a trusted adult, like a teacher or guidance counselor, to calling emergency services.
If you feel safe telling your family member or members in person, be calm and direct: “I have decided that, for my own wellbeing, I can’t have contact with you any longer.” Otherwise, write a letter that’s similarly calm and direct.