Coming home Monday after a long weekend with my parents, I was reflecting on how it was rejuvenating… And how it wasn’t always that way. It used to be that if I spent more than a few hours with my family it was… completely depleting.

See, my family struggles with healthy communication, and years ago, when I would be in that environment, it would trigger anxiety and stress… leaving me overwhelmed and feeling crappy that I couldn’t “fix everything.” I finally realized about five years ago that I need to create space to work through my own understanding of how the beliefs that I was influenced by growing up, had shaped who I had become as an adult, and what I could do about that. While some of our family dynamics were triggers for me, I finally recognized that I could only work on myself, and how I show up in those situations.
If you are struggling with the same thing in any relationship, my advice: give it some space. Give the relationship some space.

Give yourself permission to put your own mental and emotional health first. It doesn’t mean you have to cut people out of your life; It might mean that you are just slowing down or taking pause.

And, it may mean that you ultimately remove them from your life, if that’s what is best for you. This isn’t to say cut everyone out who doesn’t serve you; I hear that a lot and think it can be easier said than done. Family bonds can run deep, and friend dynamics can be well, dynamic. This is not to say to run around as an egocentric self-serving crusader. But, the lesson here is that you get to control your decisions. And you can only control your actions.

If you desire to live with greater joy and ease, what’s not an option is to stay in a negative situation doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result. You must be your own best advocate of your own life.

And it starts with building your mental and emotional strength to be in control of your emotions and how you respond, regardless of how poorly someone else may be acting. A few practical strategies that I’ve implemented to put boundaries around some relationships while still being able to remain in that relationship in a way that has become healthy for me:

1) Make an Intentional Decision about when you pick up the phone/return a text/email:

I used to receive phone calls from certain friends or family members at various times in the day and I would instantly call them back. This caused two problems: First, if I was in a positive workflow, their energy could pull me out of my stride and derail my day. Have you ever been in an amazing mood, knocking things out left and right, then had a really draining 15-minute conversation and lost ALL motivation to go back to killing it? Yeah, I used to have too many conversations like that happening…Next, you may find that if you’re already a bit stressed or have a packed day managing a number of projects, you’re more likely to be triggered more easily, and then snap back at someone or respond in a matter that you later regret.

With some relationships, I have learned that I must go into it calm and centered, and that’s only possible when I’m not multi-tasking or worried about a deadline. So with those people, I call them back and engage in a conversation when I am relaxed and have time to be centered and keep my emotions in check so that I’m not as easily triggered. This helps us maintain healthy communication in our relationship.

2) Steer the Experience on your Terms:

Ever have friends or family that way OVER-STAY their stay? Disrespect your belongings? Feel like you are cleaning up after them as they suck your soul dry and run out the clock on your weekend? (Gosh, I wonder if that’s how my mother feels when we stay with her? 😬). If this sounds like some folks you know, it can be beneficial to steer the experience, on your terms. What I mean by that: if it’s stressful to have a houseful of guests, suggest a picnic or an outing, with an end time, and share up front that you have another commitment at ‘xyz’ time. Your commitment might be to come home and veg out, that’s a commitment to yourself, and YOU are pretty damn important, so stop feeling guilty about keeping commitments to yourself! Another idea is to spend time with those family where everyone goes away together, in their own hotel rooms. This way, nobody has to clean up after anybody, you all get to be together, and, you can go back to your private room and escape them when you want to. Oh gosh, I’m just so tired at 6p, see you in the morning! It’s a lot easier to hide out in your own hotel room than it is in a bedroom just down the hallway while your guests sit in the living room… So, if you have some loved ones that you’d like to see, say once a year, but don’t want to be overwhelmed by having them stay for days, seek to steer the experience by planning something different that makes it easier on you, and more enjoyable for everyone involved.

3) Look for Healthy Compromises:

With some relationships, I found that while there were pieces about that relationship that I valued and wanted to maintain, sometimes, the activities we had traditionally bonded over, no longer interested or served me… friendships built over nights out partying just weren’t the same anymore…. Those experiences may have been enjoyed with people that I desire to keep as friends, but I just don’t have the time or desire to stay out all night drinking, so instead, I look for healthier compromises… I’m often the person to spearhead the creation of friend or family experiences by suggesting healthy alternatives. Things like: afternoon lawn games, bike rides, a cooking party. These are healthy things that I enjoy and I invite friends to come partake in it with me (or bring to them). They are usually super stoked that I’ve done the legwork to make it happen. It’s a win-win because I get to spend time with them, without having to stay out all night at the bar… plus, they get well fed and exercised which keeps them healthy, and that makes me feel good 🙂

Above all, stop feeling bad about taking control of your life and creating boundaries. If you aren’t speaking what you really feel, start being a more direct communicator. If someone you love is disrespecting you, you have to communicate with them about it. They may not ever realize how they are hurting you. And if they are unresponsive or unwilling to consider your feelings, remember, you can only control how you react in the situation. It’s your decision to determine if the relationship still serves you, and for you to decide how to maintain it in a way that is healthy moving forward, for all parties involved.

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