Posted: October 23, 2020 in: Relationships, Pain-2-Power

You Can’t Change Everyone in the Family

We human beings want to be heard and understood.  We want to find solid ground in relationships.  That’s why we expend lots of energy and we experience no small amount of angst when those close to us—our family members or close friends or, sometimes, a business associate—seem unable to relate to us with understanding.  We want and, not infrequently, it feels like we absolutely need to avoid being the brunt of repeated jokes at our expense or being needled by a brother.  We want or feel we need to be recognized for the contributions we make to others, be appreciated for the growth we have shown or be respected for our achievements.

Sometimes, it is imperative to get others to see the truth.  When a business transaction might succeed or fail based on one’s perspective, going to the ends of the earth to be heard makes sense.  When leaving a misunderstanding “out there” threatens the future of a treasured relationship with a family member or friend or business partner, then going the extra ten miles to correct that misunderstanding is worth every bit of effort.

There are times, though, when more effort to be heard and understood will almost surely be wasted.  Those are the times when repeated efforts to achieve real understanding and pave a new road forward together have fallen short and the attempts keep bringing you pain.  Maybe you’ve tried to tell your siblings how much it hurts when they make fun of you at family gatherings.  Maybe you’ve tried to tell an old friend that it bothers you that she doesn’t reach out to you as much as you reach out to her.  Maybe you’ve told a business partner many times, from the heart, that you think he sells himself short by not taking care of himself, physically or spiritually—only to be rebuffed, again and again.

When you find yourself “talking to a wall” and experiencing no small amount of frustration from doing so, it’s okay to stop trying to be heard.  It really is.  Because sometimes the reality is that you won’t be able to “get through” to someone, no matter how you try.  That might be because the person has too many walls up, or because your relationship is too firmly anchored in the past, or even because you can’t find the right words or the right moment to optimize the message (but not for want of trying).  Whatever the reason, it’s sometimes okay to “let things be” and rely on the universe to sort them out—or not.

What does this “look like,” in practice?  It might look like just listening and smiling to yourself when your older brother treats you like a little kid, despite the fact that you’re accomplished, 40-years old and have asked him several times (or more) not to do it.  It might look like taking deep breaths and letting your pulse settle when a friend gives you that same, tired old cliché line that “you’ll get through it,” when you’ve explained you need her to understand the serious hurdles you’re facing.

See, you can keep loving people—or at least living with them or spending time with them—when they are rigid.  Their rigidity is less likely to hurt you once you stop trying to change them, once your expectations of them change.

Is there something sad about setting your sights lower than complete connection and understanding with a parent or sibling or friend or colleague.  Sure.  It’s an admission of a “bridge too far.”  But that admission might allow you to enjoy many aspects of a relationship because you’ve let go of trying to perfect it.

One client of mine put it this way, “I’ve stopped arguing with my dad.  He’s 80.  We’re not going to get to the Promised Land of deep understanding between us.  And that’s okay.  I just watch him, sometimes now and I smile at the way he opens the door before I ring the bell when I go to his house.  He’s been waiting for me to arrive.  The rest of the conversation we have might not be much, but there’s that.  And there’s the fact that he’s still around.  Because who knows how long that will be for.”

Yes.  Sometimes it comes down to finding moments.  Sometimes there’s no reason to play tug-of-war over looking to be heard or understood, because the game has been played many times and the “win” is just sitting together—imperfectly, yes, but sitting together, nonetheless.

Dr. Keith Ablow


2 responses to “You Can’t Change Everyone in the Family”

  1. Keith Ablow says:

    Thanks, Robin! Love hearing from you here. K

  2. Robyn McNutt says:

    Very good read, especially with the holidays around the corner!