How To Pick Your Battles In Relationships

By Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen Tribune News Service

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Experts say, letting minor problems slide is a good strategy, but sometimes, you do have to plan steps to strive for change.

Tribune News Service

Are you caught up in a family quarrel or a personal clash with someone?

You know how this goes. You're spending way too much time dodging stones people are throwing at you.

For example, your cousin might have accused you of flirting with her husband. Or, your best friend's teenage daughter might have picked a fight with you.

To conserve your energy and avoid too much stress, try the following:

-Let minor problems go. Rate the importance of each problem. For example, will the fact that someone insulted you make a difference a year from now? If not, don't engage.

-Take control if something big is at stake. For example, if your nephew is bullying your son, this can harm their relationship throughout life. If possible, work with the problem and diffuse tension in the clan.

-Realize the power of refusing to engage emotionally. For example, if someone calls you an insulting name, you likely will feel better by taking a neutral stance. If you stay logical, you can say, "I'm not getting pulled into your drama." Letting minor problems slide is a good strategy, but sometimes, you do have to plan steps to strive for change.

"I asked my brother to write me a letter explaining why he was angry with me," says a friend of ours we'll call Anna.

"When I understood his viewpoint, I saw he was angry for a simple reason," she explains. "He thought I'd never loved him.

Wow, this was easy to fix. I wrote him a letter explaining all of the reasons I do love him. And, I now make it a point to tell him I love him."

In taking control of a relationship problem, define the problem instead of attacking another person's character, if possible.

Also, when you get the problem out on the table, it usually pays not to defend yourself. Just state the problem as truthfully as possible. People already know your character by your past behaviors. Those who know you well, whether they admit it or not, know your motives and values.

"My adult step-daughter continually tells lies on people," says a woman we'll call Harriett. "I walk a fine line, because everybody in the family wants to blame me for her tirades and false accusations."

"One day, when she was raging at a family reunion, I let her scream for a while," says Harriett. "When she calmed down, I said nothing. If I'd screamed back, it would have messed up the moment. The family needed to see that she needs professional help."

For a typical quarrel with someone, ask yourself: What does the other person want? Do they want attention, money, drugs, sympathy? Or, do they seek power by causing problems?

Your goal is to be the voice of reason in all tense situations.

"I've learned to pick my battles, but I use 'professional' language," says a business owner we'll call Ned. "It helps to tell people what you require from them in a dignified way."

Ned says, "I told my cousin, who uses drugs, to take advantage of counseling and rehab. I told him I'd be there for him, if he took advantage of help that was available. I let him know I expected him to take control of his situation.

"It's been over a year later now, and he's getting some help. He even thanked me for confronting him." ___ (Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe at www.usawellnesscafe.com. Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.) ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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