We’ve made it to the end of the semester! As this year comes to a close, make sure to take time to congratulate yourself for giving it your all. and don’t forget to give yourself some grace and to take breaks. Hopefully this latest DT&J can be a fun way to reward yourself for all the hard work you’ve put in.
Q: My family is not supportive of my relationship with my girlfriend. We’re different in a lot of ways, like race, nationality, religion, family structure, and social class. My parents were surprised I told them that I was dating someone so different from us, but they didn’t say much at the beginning. I don’t think they expected it to last long. Now there are some comments here and there. Nothing too mean or disrespectful to her or our relationship, but they’re passive-aggressive, unsupportive, and backhanded. They’re very nosy and sometimes demand to know what’s going on, and I feel trapped or pressured into telling them. With the winter break coming up, I’m not sure how to sit through hearing those kinds of comments in person. How do I manage that?
It’s disappointing when your family doesn’t support your relationship. Home can be a stressful place for many reasons, and it can spur feelings of powerlessness to think about how to navigate that. It can be tricky with parents (and nosy ones too) since there is a certain power imbalance. Not every parent or family member is going to be receptive to boundaries and self-advocacy, so while I have some suggestions on assertively communicating about the issue, I also have some suggestions on how to ride the wave. I leave it up to you to decide what is most practical and empowering for your situation.
Figure out what you are okay with, and what you are not okay with.
Where do you draw the line about what you talk with your parents regarding your relationship? Is it any conversation at all, or when they start to say certain things? Knowing what you don’t want to hear or discuss, or knowing when things go from okay to problematic, can help you decide when it’s time to put the next suggestions into practice.
Practice assertive communication and boundary setting.
Assertive communication is when a person expresses their needs while being mindful of the other person’s needs. This reduces the chance of the other person acting defensive if they don’t feel attacked or unheard. In your situation, this could sound like:
“I know you’re interested in my relationship, but I don’t want to discuss [XYZ] about it.”
“I know you care but talking about my relationship in that way makes me uncomfortable. Let’s stick to [XYZ] instead.”
“Thanks for being interested in my relationship, but I only feel like talking about it for a couple of minutes, not any longer than that.”
Boundaries are more effective when there is an established consequence. There are things in your control that you can do if the boundary is being violated. Establishing consequences could sound like saying:
“If the conversation starts to become negative, I’ll excuse myself.”
“If the comments about my girlfriend because too critical, I will change the subject.”
Tap into support.
If there is a family member who knows how hard it is for you to be stuck in those conversations with your parents, see if they would be willing to help with changing the topic. They could say:
“Can we talk about something else?”
“That brings up something I heard the other day. It was…”
If you come from a family (and there are lots of them) where boundaries and self-advocacy are not the norm and can even do more harm than good, here are some ways to try to ride the wave.
Change your body posture.
There’s a therapeutic technique called half-smile and willing hands, which involves changing your appearance to one that is less defensive. Having a slightly positive expression on your face and an open body posture can help keep things at a bearable level for you, since some people may react poorly to witnessing your discomfort, and then their poor reaction can make the whole situation worse.
For your own sanity, a less stressed posture can also help you feel more relaxed.
Tap into support…again.
If you don’t have anyone who can help you in the thick of conversations, try to find support to help deal with things after they happen. That can mean a chance to decompress and process negative emotions, or just someone who can provide a fun distraction.
Find other ways to take care of yourself.
This approach can be things that make you feel better in general, or things to affirm your relationship. The latter could be watching a movie that’s special to you and your girlfriend, calling her, or listening to a playlist you made together.
Hope these help.
Q: I’m part of a friend group, and me and someone else in it dated but now we’ve broken up. It was awkward at first but IMO things are back to normal as much as they can be. My ex and I are fine but some of our other friends are being weird. I don’t really know how to describe it, but the vibes are off. Maybe like three of them get quiet whenever one of us is around, and we all don’t joke like we used to. We still hang out all together and stuff, so maybe I’m overthinking it. I want to talk to my ex about it, or another friend who seems more chill, but also don’t want it to feel like I’m going behind anyone’s back or trying to cause drama.
I commend you on being mindful of how trying to figure out how what has happened may impact others individually and the group as a whole. That could accidentally lead to triangulation, which is one of the things I would avoid. This happens when two people have a conflict and one or both of them bring in a third person, usually as a way to pick sides or to indirectly address conflict. Discussing your concerns with one or two people isn’t the worst thing in the world, as long as there is intention to eventually address it directly with the three people who are acting weird or to bring everyone in.
You sound like you care a lot about your friends, and it seems like for the most part the friend group is doing OK. From what I’m hearing, the group was a solid unit and your relationship caused a shift in the dynamic that folks are having issues adjusting to.
You could do it one of two ways:
If it’s three people you can pinpoint and feel like the weird energy is pointed towards you, you can talk to those friends about it; OR
If that feels unhelpful or too direct, it might be worth it to do a general temperature check, where the group comes together and everyone shares how they have been feeling lately.
Because emotions can erode communication, establishing some ground rules could save a lot of stress and worry. It may also be helpful to start with how you are feeling rather than what other people may be feeling, to avoid setting off on the wrong foot by making assumptions. A way to propose this could sound like:
“Hey everyone, I’ve been feeling [insert emotion here] lately and was hoping we could do a temperature check as a friend group. It would be really helpful to see if it’s something I’m telling myself, or if there’s something we all could talk about or work on together. If we do this, I want to make sure things don’t get too heated, so can we talk about some things we could do to make sure it stays civil?”
I hope y’all have a wonderful break. Thanks for trusting us with your feelings, friendships and partnerships and we hope that you learned something that has led to more fulfilling relationships in your lives.