I have a volatile relationship with a particular family member (who shall remain nameless). This person seems to push my buttons (sometimes unintentionally, sometimes deliberately). I spent a good part of my childhood wishing I wasn’t related to this person.

As an adult, I now know that wishing to be related to anyone but this person was a waste of my time and energy. Unfortunately, my relationship with this particular individual has only grown increasingly more volatile as the years have gone by.

Despite that, there are a few things I have done that have worked for me to cope with this unhealthy relationship.

Put Some Physical Distance Between Yourself And The Person:

I have found that living in Taiwan, thousands of miles away from this particular individual, has helped me focus on my job and maintain my physical and mental health. I now live my life in an environment that does not constantly bring back bad memories, which allows me to devote more energy to my job and other things.

I have also found that I have more energy to devote to building good habits. I now meditate and journal nearly every day, and I’m planning on incorporating more yoga and physical exercise into my morning ritual; all of these things have helped me maintain my mental health, something that is absolutely crucial as an introvert. 

I took a big jump and put several thousands of miles between the two of us, but you don’t have to move abroad like I did; if you find that someone in your family is irking you, putting some physical distance between yourself and them (even temporarily) can and often does help. I would often excuse myself as soon as it was polite and burn off some extra energy by engaging in physical activities, whether it be pounding the pavement during a run or a kickboxing workout.

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My mood would inevitably improve if I pounded the pavement long enough. After all, physical exercise is proven to improve your mood in addition to other benefits.

There are other ways to vent your frustration (including writing in a journal or calling a friend) that don’t involve invoking an argument that could rival the next world war, but I’ve found that physical distance (and exercise) can work wonders.

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Set Up Healthy Boundaries (And Maintain Them) By Communicating Clearly 

I have long accepted that this particular relative and I think very differently, largely as a result of the fact that we were both raised in very different cultures. I have often had to think very carefully about what I say and how it could come across to this particular individual, and I’m sure they believe that they have to do the same with me.

Recently, I have started putting myself into people’s shoes before I say something. How would I respond to this person if someone said the same thing to me? How has this person reacted when I’ve said similar things in the past? How do I think this person thinks? What are their tendencies or habits? What do they believe?

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Considering these things has allowed me adjust my communication patterns and communicate more effectively with others.

Refusing to slip back into my typical knee-jerk responses when communicating with this particular person has allowed me to refrain from aggravating our already delicate relationship. Communicating clearly with this person has also allowed me to develop clear boundaries.

Both of us have mutually agreed that although we are family, it isn’t healthy for us to be in close proximity or communicate very frequently. Maintaining our boundaries by communicating clearly has helped me maintain my mental health and avoid drowning in negative feelings.

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Give Yourself Time

When someone close to me died during my freshman year of college, I reached out to this relative of mine, seeking solace and comfort in a difficult time; suffice to say that I will not repeat the things this individual told me in regard to my mentor’s death. The things they said made me so angry that I told this person in no uncertain terms that I believed that we should stop communication altogether.

True to my word, I promptly hung up the phone and did not call this individual or speak to any other member of my family until about 72 hours later when that same member of my family initiated communication with me.

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During those three days, I tried to focus on other things that were equally important: speaking to my advisor in regard to my current situation, surrounding myself with people who cared about me, and grieving as best I could while studying for exam season.

Those three days also gave me the time I needed to process the feelings of rage and grief I felt and validate them as part of the grieving process. I repeatedly assured myself that despite what this relative had told me that my feelings were valid, and that I had a right to feel how I felt. Having those self-assurances and private time away from the chaos that was my relationship with this individual allowed me to calm myself down and process my emotions far faster.

Give yourself time away from this person if you can; sometimes it is necessary and it benefits both of you. Time away from someone who doesn’t make you feel good is essential to maintaining your mental health.

Not all of us are lucky enough to have family members who we get along with swimmingly, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything you can do about it.