When surrounded by uncertainty, it can help to take control of your life. We ask the experts how to make the relationship changes that count.
1. Limit draining friendships
Of course we support real friends through tough times, but there’s another type who wants to endlessly discuss the minutiae of her life and seek reassurance. Make a private ‘I will say this three times only’ rule. Once you have offered your wisdom, if she continues to talk about the problem, stay silent and change the subject. Alternatively, try, “You need to talk to a professional, not me, as I’m your friend.” She’ll probably be relieved to have been given permission to seek help.
2. Cull long-standing commitments
Is your diary always frantic, even on days off? It’s time to get some breathing space. List the commitments that have stacked up (school committees/treasurer, etc.) and decide which are important. Eliminate the rest. As you step down, explain you have enjoyed doing it, but it’s time to focus on other areas of your life and you hope they understand. They will. This is easier than we realise because we’re all expendable. Think of it not as leaving them in the lurch, but as creating an opportunity for someone else.
3. Take your custom elsewhere!
How many of us continue with unsatisfactory arrangements because ending them seems too awkward. What are yours? A hairdresser who has lost her spark? A beautician who now rushes your regular manicure? Take a deep breath and change them today, giving a month’s notice where appropriate. Do not justify yourself beyond saying your needs have changed. When we give reasons, we often fib, then feel bad – and the other party knows we’re not being authentic and feels bad, too.
4. Freshen up your marriage
Do you and your husband spend little time alone together? Offer each other one night a week or a weekend every month where you do this. Take each other on an ‘artist’s date’, where you show each other something creative that inspires you (a building, a painting). Offering each other something fresh helps bring you out of your routine.
5. Stand up to critical parents/friends/siblings!
They love you, they want what they think is best for you, but their niggling criticisms, raised eyebrows or unfavourable comparisons are undermining. Recognise that if someone makes you feel small, they do so with your cooperation. Take a deep breath, remind yourself you’re an adult and this doesn’t have to touch you. Don’t be drawn in with self-justifications. Respond with, “Thank you – I’ll think about it.” End of conversation. It’s easier to deflect by stepping away. Create some space between you for a while and, if it persists, back away again, until the person gets the message.
6. Find help caring for your parents
Don’t silently seethe when siblings don’t pull their weight – talk to them. Arrange a get-together on neutral territory. Don’t start with criticism, but approach it as a team, explaining that you’d like to talk about how best to meet your parents’ needs. Proximity, career or family demands may place a heavier duty of care on one of you so offer alternative ways to help, such as financial support for additional care or taking your parents on holiday. No siblings? Can other family members help? Don’t expect instant resolution, so meet again in two weeks’ time.