Q: I have a not-so-distant relative who is an extremely difficult person to be around. "Chris" can spot a flaw from across the room and never wastes an opportunity to criticize. I know I shouldn't care what "Chris" thinks, but I do. What can I change in this situation?
Jim: Dealing with a critical person becomes more difficult the closer our relationship with them. And this is something that many of us experience. Since these people play an integral role in our life, their validation is important to us. But instead of their support and encouragement, we receive judgment and cynicism instead. Maybe we've even confronted them, asking them to bring balance to their perspective. Yet they continue to be a needle in a balloon factory, determined to pop every dream or goal we share with them.
Here's the curious part. Although their negativity is as predictable as the morning sunrise, for some reason we still seek these people out for their approval, hoping each time for a different response. But nothing ever changes. It's a little like expecting milk from a water fountain. Why stand there all day, pushing the lever again and again, hoping for something other than water to come out?
Here's the point: A water fountain doesn't dispense milk, and critical people don't dispense encouragement or validation. They criticize; they point out flaws. If they ever change, it will have to come from inside their own heart -- it's not up to you.
The solution, then, is to love that person for who they are, but take your need for affirmation to another friend or family member who will honor it in positive ways. Healthy boundaries are wise -- even with those closest to us.
If you'd like to discuss this situation with our staff counselors, they'd be happy to help. The number is 1-855-771-HELP (4357).
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Q: My wife and I are still newlyweds, and we have a great relationship -- except for the fact that she doesn't get along with my old bachelor buddies. This is a growing source of tension between us. How can we solve this problem?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Many newlyweds find themselves facing something like this soon after the wedding. It's part of two people with separate lives and histories coming together. And it gives you and your wife a great opportunity to learn compromise and flexibility. No marriage can thrive if each spouse doesn't learn to give preference to his or her partner's perspective from time to time.
Start with this: What exactly is it that prevents your wife from warming up to your buddies? And be honest with yourself -- are her concerns valid? Do your friends act immature or irresponsible ... or worse? Have they ever done something to embarrass your wife? If so, you have a responsibility to seriously consider whether these friendships are truly good for you and your marriage. Your wife comes first now.
However, if your wife and your friends simply have different tastes and interests, you could gently and sensitively challenge them all to get to know each other better. She may find some common ground with them. As the person with connection to all concerned, you're in the perfect position to facilitate this kind of social interaction. And make sure to include your buddies' wives or girlfriends in the equation. But again, your wife is your top priority -- always choose her over your buddies.
If you're still having trouble sorting this out on your own, it might be a good idea to consider the option of discussing the situation with a professional counselor. You can start with our staff of licensed family therapists here at Focus on the Family by calling the number given above.