Few things can be more precious and intimate than sharing very personal matters with someone who we know will always be there for us and in the end will not judge us for who we are. Children often find such strong emotional bonds with their parent(s) and both parties can rely on each other through all of life. At the same time, there are many adult children out there who long for a secure base of support and love because such relationships were not formed during childhood with their parents or primary caretakers. We cannot give what we do not have, unless we learn about ourselves and what we need and what others need from us. For the adult child who carries a very close bond with a parent into his or her adult relationships such as marriage, managing healthy relationships can get a bit more complicated.

Remember, parents are basically always going to be parental. This means that when a parent in some way gets involved in his or her adult child’s personal problems, the parental instincts will kick in. Years of powerful emotional connection simply cannot make way for clear and objective analysis, support and feedback. And when we have a third person or more involved (such as a spouse or grandchild), good intentions can lead to relational conflict no one hoped for. In family therapy we call this the “triangulation” phenomenon: Me, you and someone else. This means someone in the triangle is always going to feel stretched between two others.

If you want to start your new year with a new mind-set towards healthy relationships with your family and extended family, now is the time to set wise and loving boundaries – which often happens most successfully when talking with a “safe outsider” such as a counsellor. Here are some thoughts on how to maintain good adult child and parent relationships which will, in the long run, most probably compliment and enhance your personal relationships with your spouse or children and your parents:

·         Love to share all your emotions with mom like back when you went through those confusing teenage years? Make sure that when you do, you share stories about yourself without dragging someone else you love into the conversation. This means you maintain a focus on your actions and thoughts and what you can do to bring forth change, or what you have learned at a personal level.

·         Want to give dad an update on how your family life is going? Here it is best to share success stories or resolved issues where you can talk about something you and your spouse or children already figured out or resolved. Dad’s enthusiastic advice will then be seen as words of wisdom instead of an experience of some potential inner conflict of who you should please.

·         Struggling to resist the temptation to dump your feelings on your parents when you and your spouse are having some conflict because you are so used to sharing your pain with your parents? It is so important for spouses to protect each other in their personal struggles. When protecting each other, you communicate that you love your spouse because you respect his or her (and your own) vulnerabilities from any potential threat. Deal with your relationship problems directly with each other and/or in the presence of a “safe outsider.” You may not see instant rewards now, but you will be so glad you did later. You will also avoid the potential danger of triangulation. Sometimes, especially in this context, a vague but positive and sincere message will do. It is as if you are saying: “mom, thank you for your love and concern, rest assure we are dealing with what you are worried about, and I mean it.”

·         Wondering if you should rescue either your husband or your parent when they are hitting a bump in the road? When 2 people have a certain problem or misunderstanding between one another, they are the best two people to solve this problem. Don’t make someone else’s problem your mission to resolve. Encourage direct communication and, if one of the two is trying to drag you into the situation, listen with empathy  – acknowledging someone else’s pain does not mean you have to “sign up” or agree with them 100{97fa4f7e3f90de63208dbf923bf7383c3bb584adf96b64fde63584d1e00110d6}.

·         What if you do experience some jealousy because you feel more like a “decorative ornament” instead of an active and included participant? This can be difficult, but sometimes we overvalue our “power” to bring forth change. If your husband and his dad are very close, allow them time to spend a bit of time together so they can do the things they have been doing together for years. Threats and emotional outbursts will not bring forth real and positive change. However, negotiation and setting time related boundaries is a must, so make sure you communicate your own needs loud and clear.