NOTE: Daniel and Kelly speak to this question on Episode #10 of The Abel Speaks Podcast. You can listen on Apple, Spotify, or your app of choice.
There are people in your life who you love, and who love you, and they want to be helpful. God bless them, but sometimes they fail in their task and end up not being helpful.
This is especially complex when these people are close to you — your extended family, friends and community. You might feel at a loss, not knowing what to do or what to say, or even what to even pinpoint as to exactly what’s going on. You could possibly feel ill-equipped to handle it and that could lead you to begin to not look forward to those interactions.
Here are three principles on how to navigate these challenging relationship dynamics.
1) Give people the benefit of the doubt.
We have to believe the best in people. We can assume that they are wanting to be helpful, but may not know how to do that in this instance. For those walking through hardship, it may be helpful to tell those close to you ways your family would feel blessed and how they can help lessen the burden. Show grace. When we were walking through Abel’s diagnosis, we didn’t know what we were doing either. We were learning as we went and so were the people caring for us. We needed grace in that and so did they.
We previously talked about how to keep people updated during pregnancy. These updates give you an opportunity to share what things you are learning in this season and what needs you have at the moment. Things that you find helpful, are encouraged by, or have a lower capacity to handle that you want to communicate to those close to you. This could be help with meals, yard work, childcare, and other tasks that need assistance during this season.
If we do this, whether directly or indirectly, and if the issues continue to present themselves then step 2 may become necessary.
2) Draw clear boundaries — and keep them.
Boundaries can often be looked at as a negative thing, but can be very healthy and allow us to respect one another. A clear boundary may look like, “Please don’t just drop by. I’d rather you call and let me know you’re coming or ask if you can come over. I may not be in a good headspace at that moment.” Or, “We’ve already decided what we’re doing from a medical standpoint and it’s not really helping or blessing us anymore when you send us information you found or read. We’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t do that anymore.” Those are some clear ways you’re setting up your relationships for success.
It’s identifying things or a pattern where you see they’re meaning well but it’s not having the intended effect. It’s the opportunity to draw a boundary and say, “I’m going to ask that you don’t do that,” or “Hey, instead of this, try this.” These are people that we care about that care about us and we’re trying to coach them and help them help us.
3) Push pause on a relationship if boundaries are not honored.
If relational withdrawals are taking place rather than deposits it could harm the relationship in the long run. It’s better to just push pause during this season. We’ve found that when people are walking through grief, they don’t have the same capacity to handle difficult relational dynamics or conflict. And sometimes, for the benefit of the relationship, it might be helpful to put words on that. You can say, “I love you and I want to have a healthy relationship. I think it might be beneficial to push pause on the relationship and not have communication right now. When I feel in a healthier place, I will circle back with you and want to have a dialogue and work through the issues that might be at play.”
In each phase of the discussion, take the opportunity to affirm the relationship — that outworking of believing the best in your friends and family. Saying, “I know you love me and care about us. I want you to know that I love you. And it’s because of that and because I want to see our relationship marked by health and growth that in this season where I’m at right now, that’s hard to do and I see it trending in the opposite direction. I don’t want that. You don’t want that. I will circle back with you in due time.” You set that as the expectation — you will hit “resume” at some point when you feel it’s right. In the moment you may not know exactly when that’ll be, but remind those close to you, “Thank you. I know you’re with us and for us. Thank you for praying with us and for us and for being in our life.”
Sometimes we don’t feel freedom to draw healthy boundaries in our life. There is a lot of freedom there. People want to love us and care for us and when we communicate those things, we’re really benefiting the relationship as a whole. When you look at boundaries from that perspective, as opposed to a negative perspective, it shifts the focus into a healthier light. We can convince ourselves it’s a selfish thing to do and we would encourage and speak freedom over you that being self-focused for a season makes a lot of sense and is okay.