Dear Expert in Failed Relationships:
I haven’t spoken to my parents in years and never will again. Believe me when I tell you I have very good reason. In fact, I’m so comfortable with this decision, so sure it’s the right one that I’m actually, for lack of any other word, “peaceful” about it. So that’s not my problem. The problem is when other well-meaning family members feel compelled to lecture me about this. I am very polite but firm when they do. I keep it simple: “I appreciate your concern, but this is my decision and I’m comfortable with it.” That may seem abrupt, but to me, explaining my “side of it” when this first happened years ago was only met with more arguments about why I should “forgive,” and the only reason for this forgiveness presented to me over and over again was, “they’re your parents.” Retorting to this with, “They’re not my parents, they are only the people who gave birth to me,” is sometimes tempting, but it’s also harsh and bitter and that’s not at all what I’m about. I have forgiven them, I don’t harbor any ill will, but I am not about to embroil myself in their dramas and dysfunctions any longer, now that I am grown and have a choice in the matter. I have very loving relationships with my spouse, children and other extended family members, and have lots of rewarding friendships, too. So I know the problem is not me, and I can live with the fact that my nuclear family and I are not connected. It’s just that I never seem to know what the right thing to say is to people who truly mean well when they lecture me, or who seem to think I am in some way emotionally damaged because I stay away from toxic familial relationships. Do you have any advice as to how I can respond?
Living Apart and Loving It
Living with a family estrangement is extremely painful and can even be soul-crushing for many people, but it doesn’t sound like this is what’s happening in your case. In fact, this is one of the most emotionally healthy letters I’ve ever received. You made a decision that you’re comfortable with, even if it was painful at first and you’re living with it very well, from what you’ve described. Well-meaning people might not believe this, and my guess it’s because when they try to imagine themselves in your situation, they think it would be horrible, so they assume that it’s horrible for you, too. This is so common ─ to take our personal set of experiences and form a perception that we think is reality, when someone else’s experiences would have them form a totally different perception and therefore a totally different reality.
There’s another possibility, too ─ you could be scaring them. Many people want to do something they see as “daring” but never work up the nerve to do it. Some of those “well-meaning” people may be arguing with your decision because on a subconscious level, they want to do what you did but don’t have the guts.
Unfortunately, there is no magic phrase I can come up with for you to utilize that will to get everyone to back off. It’s not going to happen, because all of us are so very opinionated, and some of us feel quite comfortable arguing that our opinion is the right and only one. Your reply, “I appreciate your concern, but this is my decision and I’m comfortable with it,” is exactly how you should be responding. And if they argue, be creative and rephrase it in as many ways as you can think of, then “rinse and repeat” until they finally get the message that not only are you not going to say anything else, you’re not going to change your mind about your decision, either. (And good for you.)
Do you have a question for me about failed (or failing) relationships? I’m happy to read your questions and answer them in this column. Keep in mind that I’m a writer and licensed teacher, but not a therapist or a lawyer. However, I do consult these experts to answer my letters when necessary. Leave your questions in the comment box below, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and put “advice column” in subject line. For more information about me, visit www.patriciaVdavis.com
Please note: Questions may be edited for length and clarity.
Patricia V. Davis is the author of Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece and The Diva Doctrine: 16 Universal Principles Every Woman Needs to Know
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