family issues causing stress

Family Issues: Tension Between Your Parents and Your Spouse

Should You Choose Your Family or Your Relationship? How to Resolve Family Issues Between Your Parents and Your Spouse Let me start with a story about a good guy trying to do right by the people he loved… “Tony” came from a great family and was happily married. Tony loved his parents and his siblings; he loved his wife and his kids. He was a lucky guy. So it drove him nuts that whenever he and his wife spent time with his family, they ended up fighting the entire drive home—she didn’t like their comments about the kids or the gifts they gave or the unhealthy food. Whatever happened during the visit, his wife would find a way to be unhappy about it. Tony felt the pressure of what felt like family issues. He remembers finally yelling at her, overcome with rage. “It’s so unfair— you actually make me dread spending time with them.” He just wanted everyone to be happy. And more often than not, we’re just like Tony. We want the best for the people we love. So why does his dilemma seem so impossible to resolve? The issue wasn’t that Tony didn’t love his parents or his wife enough. The issue wasn’t that his wife was unreasonable. The problem wasn’t even that his parents were at fault. The issue was that Tony wasn’t prioritizing his marriage over his relationship with his family, which in return, was causing the family issues. I see the same conflict play out every week in my practice. Regardless of the specifics of a situation, I tell my patients that to resolve this conflict; we must remember two truths: 1. If we want to keep our marriage, our marriage must always come first. 2. We don’t owe our parents anything. My patients can’t help but argue with me. They say, “But Dr. Dabney … “ … my parents did so much for me. I don’t want to seem ungrateful.” “ … my parents are getting older. They need my help.” “ … I don’t want to be mean.” “ … I don’t want them to think I don’t love them.” “ … they’ll make me feel guilty.” “ … it’s expected of me.” “ … that’s just how things are in our family.” “ … they don’t mean the things they say.” “ … my wife just misinterprets everything.” “ … she just …

Man sitting in front of Christmas tree

Christmas Stress and Holiday Have-To’s

3 Things to Know About Christmas Stress and Holiday Have-To’s (and How to Avoid Them) The holidays can be full of Christmas stress and “have to’s.” No matter what our personality is— extrovert or introvert, party-person, or home-body. I have to go to the company party. It would be rude if I didn’t show up. We have to go to my mother’s house for Christmas Eve. She expects us. I have to make everyone’s favorite type of cookie. I’ve always done that. We have to invite cranky Uncle Ted to Christmas. He’s family. Does any of that sound familiar? If you’re like most of us, you could probably add a dozen more have-to’s of your own to the list. Here’s the thing with obligation guilt; however: We do it to ourselves. Don’t believe me yet? Here are the only three things you need to know about minimizing your holiday obligations this year. One: Obligations are never imposed on us without consent. This may not feel true yet, but the fact is that obligations are never thrust on us. Obligations are, in fact, choices we make ourselves based on information we believe to be true. Take Tom, for example. He believed that if he didn’t spend Christmas with his family, he’d let everyone down. He didn’t want to spend Christmas at his parent’s house, but he assumed that not showing up would, in some way, be worse. In effect, it was easier to “suck it up and go” and deal with the Christmas stress than it was to confront his parents with a change in plans. This lack of choice may feel very real to us, particularly when it comes to our closest relationships. We hate to disappoint, hate confrontation, hate to cause confusion, or pain. But here’s the truth: We always have a choice in how we respond to a person or situation. Even though our choices may disappoint others, they are still our choices to make. Two: Obligations are internally imposed. To understand this second fact, you first must understand the psychological process of obligation. It goes like this: 1. We receive an invitation. 2. Our inviting host expresses their hopes or expectations for the event. 3. We internalize their hopes and expectations as our own. Did you catch that? We have an uncanny ability to take on the expectations of other people. The reason we do that is …

How to Set Boundaries With Family Over the Holidays

Three Ways to Set Your Boundaries Over the Holidays I’ve had several male patients in my office who let the people in their life walk all over them. And they all do it in the name of keeping their reputation as a “Nice Guy.” My first questions are always the same. I say, Where is it written that Nice Guys can’t say no? Is there a law that to be a Nice Guy, you have to put up with abusive comments and invasive questions? Does the dictionary define Nice Guy as, “A man who allows others to take advantage of him”? The answers? No. No. And No.  The critical factor here is they need to learn how to set boundaries with family. I’ve had so many Nice Guys in my office and heard so many stories about the pain they’re feeling. My message for Nice Guys everywhere: It is possible to set and maintain your boundaries with friends and family without turning into a jerk. Three tactics on How to Set Boundaries with Family and Friends this Holiday Seasons While it’s impossible to control what people say to or expect of us during the holidays, there is a lot we can do to manage our behavior while we’re with them. I tell my patients to practice three boundary setting tactics: Stop inappropriate behavior in its tracks Preemptively set boundaries Change the subject when faced with inappropriate comments One: Stop inappropriate behavior in its tracks Finally, one of the most anxiety-producing holiday situations my patients experience is the feeling of being “stuck” with people whose behavior makes them uncomfortable. This can be physical, such as relatives who don’t share the same boundaries around hugging or kissing, etc., or it can also be environmental, such as the relative who loves to bring up touchy subjects like politics. No matter what form the inappropriate behavior takes, you don’t have to spend the holidays “stuck” in its net. For example, one of my patients doesn’t enjoy copious amounts of physical contact with anyone except his wife. His wife’s family, however, is very physical, and he used to dread spending time with them because they had no inhibitions about snuggling up to him on the couch or touching his arms or legs while in conversation. Now, instead of feeling uncomfortable and “stuck,” he promptly moves his hand or foot, etc. out of physical contact and …

How to Recognize Good Emotional Boundaries

How to Recognize a Good Boundary When You See It Maintaining good personal emotional boundaries is a very important element of positive mental health. Emotional boundaries protect us from manipulation and from being taken advantage of. They help minimize hurt and frustration. They build our self-confidence and even help improve our relationships. But what are they, and why are they so tricky? In my experience, most patients believe they have better personal boundaries than they do. They say, “I’d never tolerate [x]” or “I’ll never put up with [y] again.” But when it comes time to exercise those boundaries, they don’t. They loan them money or swallow the insults or ignore the behavior they swore they’d never overlook again. And the cycle continues to repeats itself. Since this is such a common cycle, I’d like to examine the basic elements of healthy emotional boundaries. To illustrate, let me tell you about the story of my patient, Gary. Gary couldn’t say no. Gary was a successful real estate broker who couldn’t say no to his adult daughter. Every time she needed money — whether two hundred dollars or two thousand dollars — he gave it to her. Then when she spent it on expensive clothes or indulgent nights out, he’d despair that she’d essentially thrown his money away. He made comments about her being irresponsible. He told her he wasn’t going to give her any money unless he knew precisely how she was going to spend it. Then they’d argue, and she’d cry, and he’d feel terrible and he’d end up writing his daughter a check. I asked him why he couldn’t say no to his daughter’s requests. He explained that he and his wife divorced when his daughter was young. “It was so hard on her,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt her any more than I already have.” Then he added, “Plus, I have the money. I’ve done well for myself. Why wouldn’t I share it with my daughter?” The answer to that question is where Gary and I began our work together. Emotional Boundaries are rarely black and white Gary had a partial understanding of personal boundaries. He saw them as absolutes, as lines in the sand. “I would never give her money for drugs,” for example. Boundaries, however, are rarely so black and white. Instead, they’re more effectively viewed as limits, as the threshold between when …

The Top 4 Red Flags in a Relationship

4 Red Flags in a Relationship to be Aware of A disheartening number of my male patients have either gotten divorced or suffered through long and painful relationships because of a single, core issue: They failed to act on Red Flags in a relationship before it was too late. A red flag is an issue that causes significant disruption to a relationship; they are serious problems that require professional help. The mistake I’ve seen hundreds of men make is that they believe, without foundation, that they have either the skills or the commitment to help a woman overcome her serious challenges. He thinks he can be her savior, her knight in shining armor, that he can love her enough to overcome anything. There is a much more bitter truth: When you spot a red flag, it’s best to get out. The most serious red flags in a relationship fall into 4 main categories: 1. Lack of empathy 2. Boundary crossing 3. Addiction or severe psychological issues 4. Legal or financial trouble Let’s take a look at why each one is so damaging. Lack of Empathy This flag is so red it ought to be on fire. I can’t tell you how many men tell me stories about women who expect emotional and financial and practical support from them, but who offer virtually nothing in return. Happy, lasting relationships are built on a foundation of intimacy, and that requires an ongoing give and take by both individuals. Relationships that are built on anything less are headed for heartache. Don’t settle for anyone who gives less to the emotional health of the relationship than you. You deserve to be fully supported and cared for. If you experience anything less, let her go without further ado. Boundary crossing As a society, we don’t pay much attention to men who suffer physically or emotionally at the hands of their wives or girlfriends, but it is more prevalent than you may imagine. I have worked with men who tell me they were raised to “never strike a woman,” but who have been slapped, bitten, hit with heavy objects, and generally attacked by their significant other. Being attacked is much different than being the attacker, but those differences are not assigned by gender. Abuse can be verbal, as easily as it can be physical. Verbal abuse is characterized by any attempt to make another person feel weak or …