It can be difficult to navigate familial relationships when key ideologies collide. There’s a reason why we hear so many jokes about conversational ground rules around big family holidays. But how do you handle such differences when it affects more than just your Thanksgiving banter?
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I believe marriage between man and woman is ordained by God. Shortly after my husband and I were married, my parents divorced and my mom came out as gay. Learning how to reconcile my beliefs with my mother’s lifestyle has been challenging. Though my siblings (who are also members of the Church) and I have all had differing reactions and applications, all of us have found that it is possible to show affection and consideration for our mother and her wife while still upholding our beliefs. Dually, my mother has usually felt she could respect our faith while also being gay. Though none of us have been perfect through this journey, we have found ways to show mutual love and respect.
There are various reasons families can have difficulty keeping healthy connections. Whether it be trouble with in-laws, a rift between siblings, or old slights, things can change over the life of a family. These five techniques have bridged my familial differences, and I believe they can help yours, too.
1. Don’t automatically assume intolerance
Applying labels is not conducive to changing minds or showing love. Avoid highly charged, argumentative terms like “hate” and “bigotry,” which are likely to alienate people. Give the chance for understanding, even without complete agreement. This fosters a safe space to grow relationships. To hold mutual respect for one another, we need to appreciate, connect, and empathize.
“Tolerance can be grounded in the moral domain which offers a positive approach to examining relationships between groups of people who are different from each other. (Witenberg)”
2. Spend time together where differences aren’t discussed
There’s no reason every encounter has to be about differing lifestyles and beliefs. In fact, it’s better if they aren’t. Spending time together without ever bringing those issues up allows you to find common-ground. And when there’s common ground, we can more easily see past opposing world views. Watch sports, go out to eat, play games, share life events. Love is in the little things. It’s treating each other as humans.
“Recognize that we all want pleasure and fear pain, that we all are frail, that we all suffer and die, that each of us will be separated one way or another from everything we love some day. As you see this fact and the deep deep ways we’re like each other, a wary tension in the body eases. Then you see others more clearly and can be more effective with them, even those you oppose fiercely. And when you don’t feel needlessly threatened, you’re less likely to be needlessly threatening. (Hanson)”
3. Make time to talk about the differences
Though it can be uncomfortable, making time to talk about your differing ideologies can be healing. It takes maturity and strength from both parties, but if done with an intent to understand, hearts will heal and divides will mend. Find a specific time intended just for such conversations. When both parties are able to come in emotionally prepared, a favorable outcome is more likely. Use conversational techniques like CLARIFY (Check your motives, Listen, Ask, Repeat, I-statements, Find common ground, and adopt a “Yet” mindset). (Conner)
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection… Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare. (Brown)”
4. Reference the important people in each other’s lives
Humans need to feel accepted, appreciated, approved, attended to, liked, loved, and cared for. Ask how spouses or partners are doing in conversation. When sending mail, address to the whole family. Acknowledging the people in one another’s lives shows that you recognize their connection is important.
“The effort required to recognize and acknowledge others is minimal, and the benefits… make it well worth it. (Dowden)”
5. Share positive interaction on social media
It’s nice to be seen. People want to share their good experiences with others. Interacting on social platforms lets the other person know you are interested in their life. Additionally, this sends a message to the world: we don’t have to be the same to get along. When so much of social media is filled with polarizing arguments, you can be the example of good will.
“Knowing someone is paying attention makes sharing more personally valuable… the value of many social media platforms is… sharing within the context of close personal relationships. In other words, sharing through social media is mostly about being heard by our friends. (Howell)”
Live with purpose, lead with love.
Navigating familial relationships when ideologies collide is challenging. In our case, it has been an ongoing process that is ever changing with cultural climates and the involvement of children changing in their developmental levels and ability to comprehend. We’re continuously learning how to maneuver through these shifts together. It’s okay if it takes time and if there are set backs. That’s normal. But, that doesn’t mean progress cannot be made. Leaving room for understanding, getting to know one another, talking about the hard stuff, acknowledging existence, and sharing empathy on an individual human level is how we show love. And that is what we are here for. It is our purpose as friends, as family, as humans. Love one another.
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First, a big thank you to Tyson Humphrey (my brother), Ali Holcombe (my sister), Terri Henry (my mother), and Penny Kirby (my mom’s wife) for being so open and willing to collaborate with me on this post. It’s been a process, but I am grateful for your time, patience, understanding, and love.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Conner, A. (2018, January 24). How to Discuss Your Differences With Others. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cultural-moment/201801/how-discuss-your-differences-others
Dowden, C. (2014, September 11). Why you need to be seen. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-leaders-code/201409/why-you-need-be-seen
Hanson, R. (2019, February 4). Common Ground. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-wise-brain/201902/common-ground
Howell, B. (2013, July 8). Using Social Media to Strengthen Family Bonds. Retrieved from https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/articles/using-social-media-to-strengthen-family-bonds
Witenberg, R. T. (2020, January 22). Tolerance is more than putting up with things – it’s a moral virtue. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/tolerance-is-more-than-putting-up-with-things-its-a-moral-virtue-31507