Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A to Z Blogging Challenge "L is for..."

"...Limiting or Cutting Contact with Family Members"
From the series "Words Matter"
by Shelly Burke, RN, Author, and Editor, Nebraska Family Times newspaper

The decision to limit contact or cut all ties with a family member or members is a difficult one and should not be made in haste or without a lot of thought and prayer. Situations in which you may choose to cut off contact temporarily or permanently may include abuse (towards yourself or someone else), violence, drug or alcohol abuse, damaging manipulative behavior, living an immoral lifestyle, and/or criminal behavior.  

If you or other family members are in danger, or discover something extremely  troubling about the person (that he or she has sexually abused someone, for example), you’ll probably leave that person’s presence immediately. Whether you see the person again depends on the specifics of the situation and if the person is remorseful and makes amends. 

If your seeing the person again depends on specific things he or she does or does not do, make that clear to the person face to face, over the phone, or by mail or e-mail, depending on the specifics of situation. Your priority is keeping yourself and your family safe. Do not put yourself in danger. 

What to Say

  • “I will not be around you if you are using illegal drugs.”
  • “When you were so angry last week, I was afraid you were going to physically hurt someone. You will not be invited to our home again until and unless you get your temper under control. I think you need professional help and hope you get it." 
  • Call me when you are able to be with us without getting so
  • “Hitting your spouse is wrong, and you are not welcome in our home until you get professional help. You and your wife are in
    our prayers.”
  • “Your actions with that child are absolutely unacceptable. It is not safe for you to be around children, and we will not be around you unless and until you accept you have a problem and are able to control it.”
  • “Every time we’re together dad gets angry about something, overreacts, calls names, and ruins the occasion. I’m not going to let him set such a negative example for our children; we want them to remember holidays as fun events, not stressful ones. We will not be spending any holidays with him until and unless he changes his behavior.” 
  • When talking with the person exhibiting the behaviors, set firm limits; “In the past, your behavior with family members has been inappropriate and rude. It doesn’t matter why you continue to act that way even after we’ve talked about it and you’ve promised to not act that way. I want to have a relationship with you, but cannot and will not do that unless and until you treat us with respect. That means no yelling, name calling, or critical remarks. If you continue to treat us inappropriately, we will not be able to be in the same place at the same time. You will not intimidate or hurt me or my family any more.” 

What Not to Say

  • “Your behavior is horrible and we can’t stand to be around you.” (Instead of saying this, point out specific behaviors that are unacceptable to you.)

What to Do

  • Pray for God’s guidance as to what to do to protect yourself and your family.
  • Consider asking another family member or friend to be present while you talk to the person about his or her negative behaviors.
  • Be calm and objective when you talk with the person about his behavior.
  • Consider attending at least part of a family event, even if you suspect you’ll have to leave early due to the behavior of another person. If the situation takes a turn for the worse, it’s OK to leave. Sometimes it takes a dramatic event--like part of the family leaving right in the middle of dinner--for the person causing the problem, and the rest of the family, to realize the damage that person is causing. The statement you make by leaving might give the rest of the family the courage to take a stand of their own, or pressure the trouble-maker to act in an acceptable manner.    

Don’t . . . 

  • . . . continue relationships that are harmful or dangerous to yourself or your family. 

Explaining Your Actions to Other Family Members

It’s probably not necessary to tell distant, rarely-seen relatives, every detail of why you‘ve decided to limit contact with a family
member or not attend an event. However, if the person you are avoiding could be a danger to others, you have an obligation to share relevant details so others can protect themselves and their families. If family get-togethers have been contentious for years, others will probably understand (even if they do not like the fact that you are pulling away), without your outlining the details, your decision not to attend an event or get together.  

If the conflict was not common knowledge, you have to decide how many and which of the details to share. Before you do so, consider your motives--is it really necessary to share every detail, or are you sharing unnecessary details for revenge or to ‘prove’ you were ‘right’ about something? 

The following examples will give you ideas for dealing with this situation. 

What to Say

  • To an elderly aunt whom you rarely see, when she asks why you didn’t attend the reunion the previous summer; “It just didn’t work out for us last year. But we hope to see you very soon!”
  • A cousin with whom you’re close; “My sister and I have a difficult relationship, and it’s best if we’re not together at family gatherings. Her behaviors towards my family hurt them deeply, and I’m not going to ask them to put themselves through that. We’re sorry to miss the get-together but have to this year.”
  • To your mother; “It’s just too hard to be around my brother when he constantly reminds me of mistakes I made years ago. I’ve asked him over and over not to bring them up, but he continues to. I’m not going to come to the wedding this summer because I’m not going to put myself through that again.”
  • “The last three holiday dinners have ended in tears. Our family is going to spend it alone this year; we’re not inviting anyone.” 
  • To your brother, whose wife disrupts holiday gatherings; “I’m sorry to have to say this, but your wife’s behavior at family events is just too disruptive. She makes fun of our children and made mom cry with her cruel remarks last year. If she will not promise to not yell or make critical comments this year, I’m afraid we can’t invite her.” 

What Not to Say

  • “He is a jerk and no one should be around him.”
  • “If you care about me you won’t go to the reunion either.”
  • “We’re not coming and you should know why.”
  • “Whatever she says is a lie. You better not listen, if you want to be friends with me.”

What to Do

  • Prayerfully consider the actions that are best for you and your family.
  • Tell others of your decision objectively and calmly.
  • Tell other family members of potentially harmful behaviors like violence, sexual abuse, or criminal activity.
  • Consider giving more details to someone who can and will try
    to do something about the disruptive family member. 
  • Remember that family dynamics are complicated and can be unpredictable; people who could do something about the troubling family member, for a variety of reasons, might not be willing to do so. 
  • Be prepared for any reaction from the person you bring into the situation--they could be willing to help, or become very defensive and angry at you. 

Don’t . . . 

  • . . . ask people to take sides in the conflict.
  • . . . be vengeful in what you say; tell only the truth.
  • . . . second-guess your decision if family members tell you that you are ‘over-reacting’ or wrong to pull back from other family members. Your priority is to protect yourself and your family.  

Have you had to limit contact with family members? 
This post is an excerpt from “What Should I Say? The Right (and Wrong!) Words and Deeds for Life’s Sticky, Tricky Uncomfortable Situations”
by Shelly Burke, RN. Coming soon!
 Download “What Should I Say” and be prepared for any of life’s sticky, tricky uncomfortable situations!
The mission of the “Nebraska Family Times” is to “inspire, encourage and motivate you on your Christian walk.” To receive local, state and national news from a Christian point of view, as well as devotions, Bible Study and articles about all aspects of Christian life, in your mailbox every month, subscribe for only $20 for 12 issues! Click “Subscribe” on the sidebar or send your address and payment to Nebraska Family Times, 209 27th St. Apt. #13, Columbus, NE 68601.
I am also taking the Blogging A to Z Challenge at Home is Where the Mom Is; A Christian Mom's Guide,
where the theme is “Lifehacks for Christian Moms.”