Happy Holidays from Relationship Helpers! Speaking of the holidays, this is the time of year where family gets together the most.
If you are dating, this could be an interesting and yet informative time in your relationship. You may get a window into your significant other’s relationship with their family during this season. This is the 4th episode in our series 8 Warning Signs That You Might Need To Break Up. Today, we offer some important points to ponder as you see your significant other interact or not interact with family.
If the holiday season brings about panic and night sweats, be sure to check out episode 013 “Stress-Free Holiday” where we give you tons of tips on taking the sweat out of the holidays. It’s not dating-related specifically, but is about managing family conflict, time management, and holiday planning. You’ll also find a FREE printable PDF on our website that will give you lots of help in de-stressing the holidays.
How Your Significant Other Gets Along With Their Family
When your significant other avoids family, it is not necessarily bad. For instance, some people choose to distance themselves from family because they have created boundaries to protect themselves from a toxic, dysfunctional family.
It is important, however, that these boundaries have been communicated, rather than just avoiding the family. If communicated, boundaries are healthy; otherwise avoiding someone is more like a wall.
Someone who is avoidant very well could have been taught to avoid conflict from their family. Stonewalling, a form of avoidance, is an unhealthy way of avoiding conflict. It is not communicating. Many people develop this dysfunctional coping mechanism from their families. It is basically being very obvious about not talking.
Another unhealthy way of coping with conflict in family is “sweeping it under the rug.” This is when a point of conflict arises and no one addresses it. Because of this, there is a lack of genuineness and authenticity demonstrated in the family. So many people are holding back how they feel about things that they truly can’t bond as a family.
When this occurs, years of “unspoken rules” accumulate. Unspoken rules are the points of conflict that a family intentionally avoids. This creates further emotional distance among the family members.
If your significant other is avoiding family it is important to understand the reason behind it. It’s also important to recognize any avoidance you may have with your own family.
Don’t Use “Why” Questions
When trying to understand why your significant other avoids family, it’s important how you talk about it. Using “why” questions may raise defenses. Rather, it’s more productive to make observations such as “I’ve noticed that you don’t seem to want to spend time with such and such.”
Be prepared to see this conversation not as just one discussion, but possibly a series of conversations as sometimes these topics are hot button issues and many times have deep-seated emotions involved. It can take a while for the person experiencing this to process all of these emotions and insights so it may take more than one conversation for them to get through it all.
When someone avoids family because of toxicity, it’s important to know why. That’s why the “I’ve noticed that you don’t want to spend time with such and such” conversation is important. You need to be aware of the boundaries, otherwise, they are walls.
It’s important that if someone comes from a toxic family and are trying to create healthy boundaries, that the boundaries have been clearly articulated. Otherwise, more drama occurs as the family has no clue as to why a family member is avoiding them.
If your significant other does not have a job, still lives at home, and has no license, they are in many ways like they were in middle school. It does not bode well for their emotional maturity, or their preparedness for a serious, adult relationship. Why should they be entering into potentially a legal and spiritual relationship (marriage) with someone if they are not responsible for themselves?
A terrible problem to acquire is marrying someone who thinks that you are going to take care of them. If their parents have enabled them to be irresponsible and immature then they very well will expect you to treat them as their parents have.
Many times this immaturity or lack of responsibility can be seen through what therapists call “magical thinking.” This type of thinking is not realistic. Laura uses an example from the movie “Field of Dreams.” The famous quote, “If you build it, they will come” can be exemplified by people who start businesses thinking that people will seek out their product or service without any efforts at marketing.
Magical thinking when you’re dealing with someone who is emotionally immature and irresponsible could look like someone who just expects to have the bills paid, food available and roof over their head without having to do any of it themselves.
Magical thinking is especially troubling when it translates to romantic relationships, as one expects another to fulfill a fantasy that is unrealistic. This could mean someone expects to have a home and a family without the work and responsibilities behind it. These days, that often means living at home with their parents as a married couple.
Other Red Flags
Red flags that your significant other is too reliant on their parents: They may not have transportation (able to get to and from places without mom or dad). Are they intentional about paying rent to their parents?, Do they rely on their parents solely for socialization? Are they able to make phone calls for themselves? Fill out paperwork?
It is important to note that some people who avoid making phone calls are experiencing social anxiety. Make the observation, “I’ve noticed that when it’s time to call in the pizza order you pass the phone to me.” Avoiding making carry-out orders is not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it is important that you address this concern with your significant other.
Switching gears, what if your significant other is too involved with a troubled family member? Is it possible that your significant other is enabling that person? Do they have difficulty saying ‘no’ to people? Your significant other may have assertiveness issues.
3. Healthy Relationship
No one is completely 100% healthy in all areas. When you are looking at a significant other and trying to determine if they have a healthy relationship with family, ask yourself: Can this person have a healthy, adult conversation with their parents? Are they able to resolve conflict in a healthy way? Being part of a family that “doesn’t fight” means that they avoid conflict and are not able to resolve issues in a healthy manner.
Are they able to say that their feelings are hurt? Are they assertive—speaking the truth in love, in a calm and relaxed manner without putting the other person down?
Low Emotional Environment (LEE)
What kind of environment does their family create emotionally? A HEE (High Emotional Environment” is volatile and often has family members walking on egg shells. A Low Emotional Environment (LEE) is relaxed, and allows room for people to share their feelings during conflict without being met with aggression or chaos. A LEE is not reactive, but proactive. It’s a safe emotional environment.
What if family is forced together due to family business, terminal illness situations, living at parents’ home temporarily, etc.?
It is important for people to be able to switch gears and not always be doing family things together. There needs to be a life outside of family to create balance.
If the living arrangement is living with the parents, clear communication needs to occur. The purpose of living there needs to be spelled out. There needs to be a plan, rather than parents allowing the person to stay there willy-nilly without expectations and an exit strategy discussed and planned with all parties.
There needs to be an arrangement of how the person will help with rent and household duties. How will they make sure that they do not remain in this situation?
If you’re a parent, someone who is in the dating field, someone considering dating, or what have you, we hope that you have found today’s episode enlightening. Be sure to tune in next time as we discuss the fifth part of our series “Eight Signs You Might Need to Break Up.”