It’s one of life’s many ironies. At the times when we need our connections with families the most, our relationships become most strained. There are the arguments in the hallway outside a parent’s hospital room, replaying a dispute that goes back to childhood. Funerals reopen long-neglected wounds. And tough financial moments become blame wars.

When life is at it’s most difficult, it’s important to focus on the four elements that strengthen relationships between family members.

1. Structure

While we may grumble at rules and boundaries, inside, we’re glad they exist. Family structures and expectations give us guidance for our own behavior and interactions, and also provide a zone in which we feel safe. We expect our family members to respect our boundaries, and it’s important that we do the same for others. Although we never want life to be boring, it’s human nature to be much calmer when it’s predictable.

2. Engagement

Busy schedules prohibit this authentic connection that is so needed for relationships to thrive.

It is important to make time to deeply and honestly engage with family members, intentionally focusing on them and looking into their eyes without the distraction of devices. It’s critical for us to listen carefully and develop a genuine curiosity about their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviors. When we engage with each other, we gain connection and we know we’re seen and important to each other.

3. Nurture

One reason families have always been at the center of human culture is that we take care of each other. We protect our families from dangers and address their needs. When you reassure family members that you’ll care for them and their needs, no matter what they encounter, you demonstrate your love for them and strengthen their own self-esteem and self-confidence. You’ll feel better about yourself, too. Take time this summer to show loving care for those in your home.

4. Challenge

Every day prepares each of us for what will happen tomorrow. When we try something new and succeed, our feelings of competence and mastery help us approach future challenges with confidence and resilience. So it’s important for us to encourage each other to take on new challenges. When a family member expresses a goal — whether it’s to learn a new skills or to return to school — our role is to walk alongside them and encourage them along the way.

Incorporating structure through routine, giving undivided attention through engagement, gifting nurture and care, and overcoming challenges doesn’t require perfection from us, but it does need consistency. If your family relationships aren’t what you want them to be, it may help you to gain additional insight and learn strategies that have helped others. A good way to begin is to talk with one of our professional counselors. They can listen to your concerns about your family and help you develop a path to achieve your goals. Our professional counselors are ready to hear more and to offer proven strategies you can use with confidence. We’re here to help. Call today.

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