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Beneath the Surface
The old house was just freshly painted! To passersby, it looks shiny, almost new! But underneath the surface termites are eating away the body of the house. It is similar to some families. To outward appearances, everything seems fine and “shiny”.
Nonetheless, smiling faces many times hide fear and pain. Behind closed doors, corrosive elements are eating away family peace and making many wonders: “is it still possible to live a happy life in such a difficult family and environment?”.
Do you identify yourself with the description above? If not, do you perhaps know someone who probably, or definitely, would identify him or herself with such a description?
Whether you or others are in the situation above, how would you answer the question: “Is it possible to live a happy life in a difficult family?” And, if yes, how?
The good news is: Yes, it is possible to live a happy life even with a difficult family! This article is intended to let you know how.
You can also find more useful suggestions in my other articles on family. You can find them here and here.
When tensions are high between husband and wife, dissolving the marriage may seem the easiest course of action – even a tempting one. Nonetheless, studies conducted over the years have clarified that, in fact, a great percentage of both men and women that actually divorce end up regretting such a step.
Confusion, unhappiness, and doubts about whether the such measure was, or not, the best decision often deprive those who divorced of happiness.
A number also experience more health problems, both physically and mentally, than those who fight for their marriage. Not to mention that children of divorced couples often suffer for years and, some get permanently scarred from divorce – with terrible effects not only at school, but also in their ability to relate to, and trust in, people.
Divorce might be tempting at times, true. Nevertheless, the facts show that the illusion of being happy again after divorcing is, most of the time, never fulfilled. In fact, how disappointing it must be for many who divorce to end up with another person who treats them in the same way, or even worse!
The aforementioned facts stress a widely proven reality: divorce is rarely a true solution. It might seem to be the escape to one problem but often brings many hidden problems and trials.
The idea is not that divorce is never justifiable, but that, even when it is, it’s something to not be seen as a solution for our problems.
Often, those who carefully weighed the consequences of divorce, for them and for those they love the most (children, for example), and decided to fight and put effort to make things better, found out that they can, indeed, be happy in a family who is, at the present, experiencing difficulties.
True, that might take some honest work and examination, but the reward is worth it! Here are some things worthy of being examined and/or changed.
Handle Problems Quickly
Marriages and families don’t break up overnight. Family relations neither become great nor unbearable quickly, as if one day you go to bed and everything is good and the next morning everything is bad, or vice-versa.
Generally, there are warning signs that things are deteriorating and will, if not addressed properly, result in a difficult family environment or in difficult family relations.
Why do things get to the breaking point, then? Usually, those involved – all of them – do not take those signs seriously, or prefer to pretend (for some time) that those things are not there.
That course of action will, nonetheless, inevitably make things worse in the long run. In that regard, the following is something for your consideration.
Imagine that you are in an Airbus A380 with a destination to a country of your choice on the other side of the world. Now, imagine that, right at the beginning of the flight, one of the four engines experienced a failure.
Would you consider it wise if the pilot would just ignore it and think “there are still three good engines”? Would that course of action make you feel safer? Would it increase or decrease your chances of arriving at your destination, as intended? Or would you say that it shouldn’t be ignored and they should land the plane and take a look at it and fix it as soon as possible? The same is true of marriage.
While families need to be careful to not pick at one another for things that are not truly relevant, relevant things, even if small, should not be dismissed or ignored, as that will only cause dissatisfaction, even resentment.
Small problems in a family can grow bigger and bigger until they seem insurmountable. This is especially true between a husband and wife. But, if addressed promptly, many problems can be avoided – including breakups! Consider, therefore, the following advice, written by a famous lawyer almost 2,000 years ago, and the wisdom it contains.
How it Works
“Let the sun do not set with YOU in a provoked state”. (Ephesians 4:26) Yes, learn to handle problems and disagreements quickly! Do not ignore warning signs! Talk to your spouse, or whichever family member you might have a difference with, about the problem on that very same day.
Resist the temptation to let it go as if not talking about it will solve the problem. Actually, it normally makes it worse. Here, however, a word of caution is fitting: learn to talk respectfully about the issue, instead of accusing. Remember: no one likes to be accused – not even you.
Therefore, if you accuse, the reaction you will get is a defensive one instead of an attentive ear to your words and feelings. Try to say how the specific problem (whether acts or words) makes you feel! If you start the conversation that way, you are much more likely to be heard than if you accuse your family member.
Also, in this regard, although you do not want to ignore the problem or allow it to drag on the next day, choose a wise time to talk to your spouse, or family member, about the problem. Normally, a more relaxing time for him or her is the best time!
A key concept each of us needs to always have in mind is that we have a significant role in any state of affairs: each of us either makes things easier or harder, better or worse.
With that in mind, if you have a difficult family, focus on what you can do to make things better. Accepting that we can also cause, or at least contribute to, the difficulty is an important step as it opens opportunities for improving – individually and as a family.
The following are important steps that, when put into action, build a better environment and will allow you to be happy – regardless of what the other family members do.
Speak in a Respectful Manner
“There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword, but the tongue of the wise ones is a healing”. (Proverbs 12:18) A wise king from the past, in his great wisdom, wrote those words many centuries ago.
What do you think he meant? When reading such words, do you think they could help you in building a better environment in your family and in the way you communicate with your family members? For example, notice the interesting comparison between the effect of a sword and that of a tongue badly used.
However, focus too on the contrast between “stabs” (opening wounds in someone by using the tongue badly) and “healing” (promoting cure – perhaps of a wound/problem – by using the tongue wisely).
Your tongue is that powerful! Therefore, use it wisely! Should you do so, it will lead to a “cure” in your family – even if that happens gradually (remember that nothing gets cured from one day to the other!).
Also, take into consideration that researchers and experts in the area found that most conversations end the way they start. Hence, if a conversation starts in a respectful manner it is much more likely that it will continue to be a respectful conversation and that it will end respectfully.
Therefore, make a real effort to learn to control your tongue; learn to talk to others the way you’d like and wish them to talk to you. And you know how much it hurts when a loved one speaks rudely or thoughtlessly to you.
Learning to control yourself in that area will certainly be noticed by your family and, sooner or later, will not only improve the family environment but also their respect for you – even if they don’t say so. That’s a worthy reward – yes, even in a difficult family!
Do Not Take Offense Easily
The same wise king quoted earlier in this article also wrote: “Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9) Try to control and avoid the inclination to refuse and refute your mate’s viewpoint on matters.
Also, do not jump immediately to your own defense if your mate brings up something you have said or done. True, that is not an easy thing to do. Nonetheless, if you learn to do that and to acknowledge your mate’s feelings and expressions (or those of other family members) that will surely cause an impact on them – and consequently, on how they see and treat you.
Unfortunately, many couples/families learn too late in life that winning a heart is a much greater victory than winning an argument. Which one will you prefer from now on?
“I am sorry!” Three little words. But honestly saying “I am sorry for hurting you” might take true humility and courage. That happens because we normally have a strong tendency to try to defend – sometimes, even impose – our opinions.
Consequently, if we have such a strong tendency, apologizing might feel like admitting defeat. Remember, though, that there is no happiness without peace. Therefore, don’t focus on how it might feel to you at the moment, but on the result, it might bring, i.e., peace when before there was war.
Handling differences with a sincere apology, time and again, can produce a profound impact on the family and can help you and your family not only to solve problems but also to develop a warmth and intimacy that will make you and your family members find more pleasure in each other’s company.
A plus is that, even if others don’t correspond to your efforts immediately, you will still feel good and at peace with yourself for having done the best thing. That sense of personal peace is also a key factor in being happy, even when dealing with a difficult family.
After all, when we don’t feel good about our own actions, even when we live in ideal conditions, we are still not happy because that is an inner thing and, therefore, depends more on our sense of accomplishment than on external factors!
Thus, do the right thing even when others don’t seem to correspond to your efforts, and it will increase your sense of satisfaction inside – and your personal happiness!
- Winning a heart is a much greater victory than winning an argument!
Expressing Appreciation – Make it a Habit
Strong marriages and families with children are characterized by husbands, wives, and children who make their spouses and/or children/parents feel appreciated. Unfortunately, this seems to be a forgotten area.
Many couples and families with children neglect this vital aspect of family life. Most of them simply assume their spouse/children feel appreciated. Assumptions, especially in this area, are dangerous. When asked, many promptly say that they would like their mate to be more appreciative and to express such appreciation with actions.
The same can be said about children who never, or rarely, hear sincere words of appreciation from their parents. When that happens, doubts arise, resentment enters into action and, as a result, those involved have less patience with their family members and are more prone to accuse and fight.
What is the solution to avoid – or reverse – such a process? Don’t neglect your spouse or children.
Make it a habit to express appreciation for them! Do it in words, yes, tell them how much you liked something they did or said, or didn’t do or say. But, even more importantly, do it in action. “What sort of actions”, you might ask.
When a husband or wife gives his or her spouse a gentle kiss, a gentle touch on their hand, a warm smile after he or she has done or said something good, a tender look after seeing him or her after a long day of work… those small, little gestures – especially when they are constant – say more than just “I love you”.
They tell your spouse that he or she is special to you and that you need him/her. Why don’t you recover the romance – should you think it has been lost – by giving your spouse a call, sending a WhatsApp, or an e-mail saying “I am missing you”? If, since your courting days, you have begun to neglect to make such expressions, it is a practice well worth reviving.
Obviously, each person feels differently about things. Thus, different things touch the hearts of different people. Therefore, continue to learn what sort of little, tender things touch your spouse’s heart – and do them without bargaining!
Naturally, all that mentioned in this paragraph can be applied to children as well, with due adaptation.
Effort Brings Rewards
Building a house demands great effort and, sometimes, there are unexpected challenges and unexpected expenditures.
Generally, though, those that have already invested so much in building a house don’t give up on the house because, at some point, things got harder than initially foreseen.
Actually, normally they put even more effort to overcome the unexpected challenge and finish the house. The same is true with families. Sometimes, there are unexpected challenges and difficulties.
Don’t, however, let difficulties tempt you to give up or think that you can’t be happy in a family that is difficult or is going through difficulties. Do not let upsets cause you to abandon your commitment and forfeit everything that you have already invested in your marriage/family.
Always remember all of the efforts you have already put into the “house” and the distance you, as a family, have already covered together!
As you would do with a house, put even some extra effort into it and in your manner of acting, thinking, and talking, as discussed in this article, and don’t allow yourself to doubt that you can be happy, even with a difficult family.