Editor’s Note: Strong relationships are at the core of a happy life, but sometimes, dealing with the people in our lives is tricky. That’s why Thrive Global partnered with The Gottman Institute on this advice column, Asking for a Friend. Every week, Gottman’s relationship experts will answer your most pressing questions about navigating relationships — with romantic partners, family members, co-workers, friends, and more. Have a question? Send it to [email protected]!
Q: I have a lot going on in my personal life right now. How do I make time for family without slipping up at work? The past couple months have been busy at home, and not in the most positive ways. I find myself being a constant mediator between siblings and parents. I want to make time for my loved ones and show them that I’m truly there for them, but I also have an extremely busy job, and I work pretty long hours that aren’t always conducive to me leaving before sundown. How do I show up as a loved one without letting it make me look bad at work?
A: A true work-life quandary! It sounds like you’re managing a disruption to the delicate balance between attending to your loved ones and giving your job the attention that it needs. Being pushed and pulled in different directions like this results in an imbalance in need of recalibration.
You have added a new role to your daily to-dos: family mediator. And I truly feel your pain. Being thrust into such a role with your own family is brutal. Distressing. Emotionally exhausting.
You’re correct in your concern that work will be negatively impacted, not just because of the time involved in attending to your family, but the family drama that you can’t help but internalize may become a real focus buster.
You’re not alone. Many very well-intentioned, peacemaking types end up playing the role of mediator in their families. At times, this role can feel manageable, but when it crosses over into impacting a full-time job, the role of mediator is simply no longer one that you can play.
In fact, it can be detrimental to your own well-being and may not actually be what your family members need, although they may try to convince you otherwise. Might I add, you are not in an objective position to mediate, as well-intentioned as you may be, given that you are part of a family system and may inadvertently be contributing to the continued drama. Family therapy and professional mediation are disciplines that have developed for this very reason.
So you will need to set boundaries with your family. Setting boundaries doesn’t mean shutting the door on them while they are in need. Rather, you are moving into a supporting role rather than a primary role. It means getting them the type of assistance that can actually help them move through this conflict without harming and negatively impacting your own life.
Seeking a skilled clinician or mediator, depending on what the conflict is about, will be a wonderful way to effectively help your family through this time. You can find a Gottman-trained clinician in your area on the Gottman Referral Network.
You are not a mediator or a family therapist, you are a family member. Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself, which will ultimately help your family, whether or not they acknowledge it in the short term.
It’s the best gift that you can give them to help them through their current conflict.
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