How to manage complex family relationships

PexelsRelationships improve when we bring out the best in each other. It’s a good idea to try to find the humor in stressful situations.

(TNS) – Remember those comforting old TV shows depicting happy families in the ‘50s and ‘60s? We all can name several.

But, in today’s world, the typical family on TV is a lot more complex.

For example, grandparents on a given show might be raising the grandkids. The kids’ parents, divorced, often have crazy new lovers. And, it’s typical to see family members who are in recovery programs.

In your own family, you can identify. Maybe the number of family members under your roof has doubled recently. Maybe someone lost a job, so they asked to move their family in with you.

On top of this, your already shaky budget now has to stretch even further. And, because of the coronavirus pandemic, you’ve been asked to work from home and also forego that raise you were counting on.

You want to cope with the complications, but where do you begin?

These tips can help:

n Require everybody, even children 6 or older, to do small chores. Pitching in preserves everyone’s dignity and keeps the household stable.

n Encourage everyone to share honest feelings. Sure, it’s easy to criticize someone, but instead, ask: “Are you stressed out?” Listen and show concern.

n Don’t boss people around. This will backfire. Say instead, “Let me know if I can help you.” Or, say, “I could use a little help from you today.”

n Take the lead for positive actions. For instance, if you know someone is going to need a ride to the doctor, help them manage this. Drive them yourself or ask your best friend to do it.

“My husband Rob is a saint,” says a friend of ours who has two major family illnesses going on. We’ll call her Patti. “Rob is helping me manage my relatives’ doctor appointments and their money issues.”

Rob told us: “You have to make up your mind that you’ll find a way to embrace everyone. It’s less stressful to dive in and tackle the problems, because you’ll feel empowered and capable.”

Rob is right. Complex problems call for some juggling, but it’s easier to manage if you face everything squarely.

A dentist we’ll call Phil says his family life is very complex these days. “My teenage daughter is pregnant, my mother-in-law just moved in with us, and my wife is taking college courses online,” Phil points out.

“It became my job to fix dinner every night at six,” Phil laughs. “At first, I rebelled! But, once I embraced it, I decided to organize the kitchen and learn to do some amazing cooking.”

Rising to the challenge of complex family struggles will either enhance your relationships or weaken them. Your attitude will make all of the difference.

“This coronavirus pandemic has made me vow to change things for the better,” says a social worker we’ll call Fay. “I’m staying home more, cleaning my closets, organizing my home library and watching great movies with my kids. If we’re forced to change, let’s look for some positive things we can do.”

Relationships improve when we bring out the best in each other. If stress is showing up in your life, grab the bull by the horns. Vow to devise and orchestrate some good outcomes.

It’s a good idea, too, to find the humor in stressful situations if you can.

If we can stop judging ourselves or others too harshly, we can strengthen our ties with our loved ones.

Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe at

Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator.

Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.

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Tribune Wire