It’s not easy to take the high road, but it does pay off. Trust me, I have now spent half my life helping families in conflict navigate our court system in our nation’s capital. After more than two decades of working on highly complex family law cases, I have come to accept that it is very difficult to change someone’s perception of reality, especially if they don’t want to see another point of view. Rather than argue with someone intransigent, you need to find a different path forward that allows you to preserve your dignity and integrity.
In court, every email, text, or other written exchange between two parties can be introduced as evidence, so I always encourage people (even without litigation pending) to filter what they write. Before you hit send, ask yourself: would you be okay having that message read out loud in an open courtroom? If the answer is no, then don’t send it. Wait until you are calmer, maybe ask a friend to help you edit your message, and try your best to keep it simple and polite.
When dealing with someone that has a mental health issue, especially a personality disorder, you cannot expect rational behavior from someone that is irrational. Less is best in these situations, so keep your messages brief and be firm about your boundaries. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to say things you will later regret, but what I tell my divorce clients to remember is this: don’t wrestle with a pig, the pig just likes it and you get dirty.
Families are complicated- not only are there varying personalities and constant changes that play into the dynamics, but we can all have widely different expectations of each other, and these are not always communicated clearly. For example, I know my mother expected me to return to New York City after I finished my studies, but the fact is I left home at age 15 for boarding school for a reason and it was a very conscious decision after law school to make DC my home, which provided a nice long buffer. Certainly when she got cancer or my grandmother was in her final stage of life, her unspoken wish was that I would have been there, but I was living over 200 miles away, busy with my own family and career. I have come to accept that our difficult relationship (which is no secret) will remain a profound disappointment we will each carry to our own grave.
Even if it’s not some family drama playing out in court, I try my best and encourage others to be the bigger person. At home, I know when I am having a fruitless conversation with a relative, and rather than say something I might later regret, I try to excuse myself and either walk away or end the call. Whenever I get an unpleasant message from a colleague, I tend to wait a day to respond if one is really required. By that point, I have hopefully calmed down and thought of a courteous response that gets my point across without being nasty. Everyone gets triggered, but you can learn to control your reactions– it just doesn’t happen overnight.
They say adulting is about accepting the parents you have, not the ones you wish you had. Perhaps the same is true for parents, especially as empty-nesters. While my son and I adjust to this next phase of our relationship, I am enjoying the quiet space he has left behind for the first time in 18 years. Although I wish he had made different choices, especially the past 12 months, I can appreciate that at a certain point each person has a right to choose his/her own path. It is radical acceptance to sit back and watch him rebel from a far, but as I have learned over the past half-century, you really do need to pick your battles carefully.
Unlike familial relationships, which can have an ebb and flow, friendships or romantic relationships can come to a quite sudden or abrupt end, and it takes time to recover from the loss of not only the bond you had, but also the future life you had envisioned that will no longer come to pass. Finding peace requires you to understand that anger (which is just an aggressive form of expressing our hurt and disappointment) is not the opposite of love, it’s apathy. As tempting as it might be to spread venom, avoid being part of any unnecessary drama. The less you feed into it, the sooner the gossip will die down and you can reach a place of serenity. Until you get there, you may need to fake it until you make it!
Now if you are dating online, it might be tempting to just ghost someone you don’t know well and will probably never see again, but why not end on a positive note? You have nothing to lose by closing the loop with a nice final message like this one: I enjoyed getting to know you and had fun on our dates, however, I’m not feeling the connection that I am looking for and wish you the best on your journey. I wish I could take credit for this line, but it was actually a team-effort, and although I never got a response, at least I showed grace.
Ultimately, we communicate in order to try and foster better understanding, but not every thought needs to or should be shared with others. Before you speak, run it through this 3 prong test: (1) is it true; (2) is it necessary and (3) is it kind? If it doesn’t pass all three parts of this test, I urge you to keep those comments to yourself, especially with those you love.
By Regina A. DeMeo