Dealing with relatives


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Dealing with relatives

  1. 1. Dealing with relatives IntroductionLoved, liked or despised, everybody has relatives and everybody has to deal with them. You may notchoose them, but you never really lose them, because family is family for life. The label of ‘relative’covers a wide range of relationships, from parents, siblings and offspring, to aunts, uncles, nieces,nephews, cousins and in-laws. Whether they are melded, welded, or only marginally attached to yourfamily, they are your relatives nonetheless.As a result, behavior in a family can be incredibly diverse. Some of your relatives may be cautious,where others are carefree. Some are only there when you want them, while others are never therewhen you need them. Some may be offensive, while others are easily offended. Some may take greatpains to make sure you know they are suffering on your behalf, while others may come and go likethe wind and never notice the mess they leave behind. How do you sort it out and make sense of itall? What can be done when relatives behave badly?In writing this book, we were faced with a humbling fact. Family is a subject of great scope andcomplexity! In order to be successful in having worthwhile and fulfilling relationships with yourrelatives, you need insights and skills that work reliably through time, and a way to organize them sothat you can learn them, refer to them, and use them when something more is required. Since the bestadvice needs a consistent organizing framework, we strove to design a simple model with simplesteps that can explain why people act the way they do and what you can do about it.Such was our task and our intention. To accomplish it, we followed a similar organizational model tothe one in our book, ‘Dealing With People You Can’t Stand.’ We encourage you to consider thatbook as a companion volume to this one, a useful supplement with even more choices for influencingrelationships.This book has four parts. In Part One, we introduce the ‘Eight by Fate,’ the eight behaviors that makefor great relatives or difficult ones, and provide a ‘Lens of Understanding’ to help you make sense outof why your relatives act the way they do (and why you act the way you do too!) In Part Two, you’reinvited to Family Camp, a learning environment for the basic set of communication skills youll needto interact with your family members in a constructive and creative way. In Part Three, we provideyou with material that relates specifically to the special case of family gatherings. We call it‘Showdown at the Not-OK Corral.’ This section can serve you as a useful reference in preparing forholidays and reunions. Part Four returns to the ‘Eight by Fate’ behaviors, and provides you with a setof options for dealing with each of them, based on the skills you acquired in Part Two. We concludethe book with "The Dimension of Greatness: The Ten Qualities of an Ideal Relative". If you’ve everwanted to let your relatives know what you want from them, or you have ever aspired to be a greatrelative yourself, these are the most desirable characteristics of great relatives according to the peoplewe interviewed for this book.You may be wondering who we are and how we came to write this book. You can find an extensivebio in our first book, or on our website Suffice it to say that we are Rick andRick, twin sons of different mothers. We met while students at a naturopathic medical school, and ourfriendship and partnership has endured for well over two decades. We live parallel lives in many
  2. 2. ways. We are both married to women whose names start with the letter ‘L.’ We each have one child, adaughter. Our daughters are the same age apart as we are. We once unknowingly bought the sameArmani suit fifteen hundred miles apart on the same day, and discovered the fact when we showed upfor a video taping wearing an identical suit. We are both physicians, we both live in Oregon, and weboth speak to audiences all over the world. Together, we have studied health from the point of viewthat thoughts and emotions play a significant role in well-being. We are both students of humannature, and have arrived individually at the shared point of view that working things out works betterthan getting worked up, and that it is possible to work things out even when one party doesn’tnecessarily want to! We are convinced that relationships improve when people know what to do andthen do it. And we both agree that you always have a choice about what you do with thecircumstances of your life. You can suffer and complain about what is wrong and who is wrong andwhat can’t be done and why it can’t be done, or you can apply your time and energy to making thingsbetter for others in their dealings with you and for yourself in your dealings with others.This book is not intended as a reference text for dealing with mental illness and serious familypathology. Such work is best handled with appropriate support and services (see appendix.) But it isdesigned to help you improve the quality of your family relationships when your approach has beenclouded with stress, anger, fear and frustration. In preparing to write this book, we conductedhundreds of interviews with people from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds. The stories in thisbook, including the fables and fairy tales, are about real people. The names and circumstances havebeen changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty. The people with whom we spoke were openand honest about the difficulties they faced with their relatives and the solutions they developed toovercome those difficulties. With their help and insight, we were able to find out the best of whatworks to bring out the best in relatives at their worst. Weve written this book to pass this informationon to you.Without further ado, it’s time for you to meet the relatives