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Exploring Womanhood > Relationships > Articles

The Ten Commandments of Family Harmony
By Mark Sichel, LCSW, www.marksichel.com

Family feuds can cause depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, sadness, confusion, and rage. No one wants to live like that! Here are some simple rules for turning family feuds into family fun. Try following some of the Ten Commandments of Family Harmony to find some familial relief.

l. THOU SHALT ZIP IT.
Learn to think before you speak. Bite your tongue before that provocative remark comes out of your mouth and you get embroiled in a huge fight.

2. THOU SHALT CLEAN THY SPLEEN.
Write a hateful, nasty letter to your family, telling them all your resentments and rages. Drop the letter into your personal "dead letter box"; and move on with a smile on your face.

3. THOU SHALT LISTEN. THOU SHALT NOT DISPUTE.
Hey, words are only words. Sometimes people vent frustration in inappropriate ways by going on wild diatribes. Don't get sucked down to their level. When your Mom blows her top and starts howling about the time you came home late when you were nineteen and how you never come to see her any more and how Mrs. Johnson's daughter is SUCH a better daughter than you... you can hear her out and simply say, "I'm sorry you feel that way." When your mom cools off, she will probably feel bad, but you won't have to. Avoiding that tit-for-tat argument kept you from having to spend a week in the "burn center."

4. THOU SHALT REMEMBER: GOOD FENCES MAKE FOR GOOD FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS.
Create boundaries, set limits. You know how much contact you can take and how much will ignite your internal nuclear bomb.

5. THOU SHALT REMEMBER OCCASIONS AND EVENTS.
It doesn't cost much to remember birthdays, anniversaries, and the Christmas holidays. Whatever the occasion, a card makes people feel remembered, and when people feel remembered, they feel loved and hence, another feud is avoided.

6. THOU SHALT NOT OVERREACT, EVER.
When family members feel neglected, they often will present a scenario that invites your overreaction. Invites? Heck, BEGS for it! But remember -- overreactions can cause all-out wars. Do not do it!

7. THOU SHALT GIVE IN.
If you want to win the war (or in our case, avoid the war all together); sometimes it's strategically advantageous to lose the battle. Assess a family situation carefully, strategize, and weigh your gains and loses in any given situation. For example, if your ageing mom needs a weekly phone call to avoid starting a fight with you, why not give it to her? Is the inconvenience of the call really weightier than the inconvenience of a brawl? Practice artful dodging if necessary, call when you know she won't be there, and leave a message telling her you love her and miss her. A little can go a long way.

8. THOU SHALT LET BREVITY AND PAUCITY BE THY MOTTO.
In volatile families, keeping contact limited and utilizing a cordial and polite silence to avoid fights, can often extinguish the flames of conflict. Again, artful dodging is a useful tool. If your Dad calls and you can tell he's looking for trouble: "Got to go Dad, the Pastor's at the door for his annual visit. Speak to you later!"

9. THOU SHALT CHANT: "WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET."
Do not ever try to change your relatives. Remember, people can change themselves, but we cannot force another to change. Accept your family for who they are, whether you like them or not: trying to change another causes battles, poor self-esteem (because you're trying to do something that can't be done and are doomed to failure), and depression.

10. THOU SHALT STAY IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT.
Take control of potentially volatile family situations and take charge of managing them. For example, if you come from an alcoholic family and you know that going out to dinner means that cocktail hour is the main course and family flambé is the dessert, arrange breakfast meetings where drinking won't occur.

© Copyright 2004: Mark Sichel is a psychotherapist, consultant, and speaker on a broad range of issues related to family, mental health, and interpersonal problems. He is the editor and principal author of the award winning self-help website, www.psybersquare.com For a more detailed guide to overcoming the panic brought on by dysfunctional family experiences, read Mark Sichel's new book, Healing From Family Rifts: Ten Steps to Finding Peace After Being Cut Off From a Family. For more information about this book visit the author's website: www.marksichel.com

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