Family Ties: How to Disagree Respectfully
You’ve worked hard to make changes in your life, get your finances in order and pay down debt. It would be great to count on support from our friends and family, but that’s not always the case. So how do you keep your cool when someone you love challenges your choices? In this week’s episode of rich & REGULAR, we talk about how to stay calm in the moment and affirm the changes you’re making.
We’ve worked hard to bring about big change into our lives, and we’re thrilled to share all our progress with everyone we know. But we don’t always get a good reaction. When we make healthy changes for ourselves, others might act as though we are attacking or rejecting them for their previous choices or go out of their way to make us feel wrong about the progress we’ve made.
When that happens, it’s all too easy to become wrapped up in our interpretation of the events. Common courtesy goes out the window, which can turn a family disagreement into an actual fight.
When someone loudly disagrees with our choices, it makes sense that we tense up and get ready to fight for “our side.” But finding a way to stay calm when you’re feeling criticized might help you more effectively make your point to the other person and keep everything on an even keel.
Take a deep breath, count to 10 and remember that negative feelings don’t control. This can help you keep your cool and keep the situation under control.
Discern facts from feelings.
Unfortunately, human communication is not as cut and dried as we would like it to be. We often hear other’s words colored with the emotions that we’re feeling in the moment. When that happens, it can be challenging to separate the facts of the situation from the feelings it arouses in us. The techniques below can help you gain a little insight into the problem and not respond heatedly.
Write down your bullet points.
Take a little time to write down why you made the changes to your life in the first place and the long-term effect you’re hoping to gain. Reminding ourselves that we moved an hour away to save money for a down payment for a house or get out of debt can help you keep the peace when a loved one criticizes you for living so far away.
Having your motivation and values at the forefront of your mind helps you remember the ultimate goal and let others’ criticism roll off your shoulders.
Find the pause.
Respond, don’t react is a common phrase in the meditation community. Reacting is an instinctual process that turns any perceived hurt or insults back at the other person to cause just as much, if not more, harm than the original did. It’s how basic disagreements wind up escalating into full-on arguments or even actual fights. When we react, we don’t care about anything except hurting the other person the way they hurt us, emotionally or physically.
On the other hand, responding puts a slight pause between the argument and the hurt and anger you may feel, allowing you to insert your emotional intelligence into the situation. You have a moment to take a breath, determine whether you’re going to hit back, and hopefully, decide to take the high road and de-escalate. In that nanosecond of space, your brain can come out of its fight-or-flight reaction and let the rational, adult part of your brain take over.
Responding instead of reacting is challenging to do in the moment, so it’s important to practice this in regular life before walking into a high-stress situation unprepared. Meditation, breathing exercises and talking about the problem with your partner or a mentor can help you find that pause to think rationally instead of reacting blindly.
Use non-threatening language.
Phrases like, “I hear what you’re saying” or “I understand where you’re coming from” can help to soften what the other person hears so they can also find some space from their feelings in the moment. It’s a polite way of saying that you hear their argument, but it’s not going to change your mind.
Assume good intentions.
Your family generally wants what’s best for you*, even if they don’t express it well. A loved one may feel scared you’re going to leave them behind. Or they remember a time when they tried to make changes that didn’t stick and are hoping to prevent you from making a similar mistake. That doesn’t need to change your plans, but having some empathy for why they react a certain way can help you keep from slipping back into the fight-or-flight mental space.
*If you’re in a dangerous or abusive situation, sometimes leaving and completely cutting ties is the best thing for you. Seek counseling and support for your specific situation and listen to your gut on what is and is not safe.
Remember, you’re doing what’s best for you and your family, and not everyone in your life needs to understand or approve. It’s nice to be validated by our family and friends, but sometimes, other people just don’t see our point of view, and we need to agree to disagree. Difficult conversations may come up, but if you keep your cool and use the techniques above, you’ll hopefully get through with your relationship intact.
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