Four Ways to Stop Family and Friend Drama

Complaining and negativity is difficult enough in the workplace, but what do you do when a relative or friend, (Sally, Sam, or Sue) occupies your time with venting, complaining and negativity? It’s difficult to see someone you care about go through hard times but it seems that this is more of a pattern than a particular situation.  Negativity breeds negativity and research shows that venting only makes things worse.

 Here are four choices to stop your drama with your family and friends!

Unplug
I have a saying: it takes two to play games unless you are playing solitaire. What this means is that in some way you might be participating without recognizing it. When you jump in with advice, or you give sympathy, an argument or agreement this just adds fuel to the fire. Even if Sally walks away feeling better, notice that you walk away feeling drained. Reserve your energy for friends who can give as well as receive. Withdraw your energy by keeping your mouth shut. A good rule of thumb to remember is this: If you feel exhausted after being around a friend or relative, you might be taking on their problems and doing their emotional work for them. If you want to listen, do so without plugging in.

Mentally say to yourself, ‘this is how she feels, not how I feel.’

Set a boundary
When Sue calls you on the phone, tell her up front you only have five minutes, then stick to your five minutes. Don’t make yourself available for unproductive phone conversations about what’s not working. Use this method to set the stage in advance so that you don’t get caught off guard holding the phone waiting for her to come up for a breath while you wait for an opening to bid farewell.

 Ask a question
Your brother Sam comes to you complaining about his bad luck. You can see it’s going to be a rant, but you want to be there for him.  After an initial statement such as, “that must feel awful,” take a breath and wait. Then, ask the question, “So, what are your choices?” If Sam comes up with some choices, you have just empowered him to take responsibility. If however he says, “I have no choices” and he goes back on a rant, do not respond. The challenge for you might be to resist the urge to plug back into the conversation by offering sympathy or advice.  

 Change the subject
Just a simple, “Can we change the subject?” often will let the other person know that you are not interested and not willing to participate in drama. Your challenge will be to hold your tongue and deal with the uncomfortable silence. Don’t apologize. Just recognize that speaking up now will eliminate the risk of you either feeling resentful, lashing out or wasting your time listening to endless negative chatter.

Have an authentic conversation
I saved this for last because for most people this is the most uncomfortable. No one wants to confront someone else and hurt their feelings, but there is a way to do it. The first step is to own the part that you play in the drama. You say something like this, “Sally I have something to admit to you and I want to apologize. I feel that I’ve been a bit negative lately and I think it’s rubbing off.  It seems that when we talk on the phone I end up feeling worse because I just get caught up in what’s not working or what is wrong. I have made a new commitment to be more positive and keep my attitude in check. Would you support me in keeping this commitment? Then the next time Sally comes to you with negative news, you can say, “oops, remember my commitment?

While you are making these changes give up the need for Sally, Sam or Sue to understand or agree with your new way of responding. She may try to manipulate you into the drama because drama is very addictive. He may try to make you feel guilty for not being a good sister. The bottom line is this: you must get honest with yourself and see if you are willing to take a stand to make this important change.  

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4 Responses to Four Ways to Stop Family and Friend Drama

  1. hdenease says:

    I am a huge believer in authentic converstation, and I appreciate this Blog post. I think family is the most challenging of all when it comes to honesty and just saying no, but it’s worth the reward and they will respect you more afterward.

    • stopyourdrama says:

      You are so right. (It’s even difficult to be on the receiving end) of authentic communication, and that is why it is so important to use kind language and come from a place of loving intention, by clearing any resentment or anger that may be lurking in the shadows. Thank you so much for your thoughts. :-)

  2. Karla says:

    my mom and my aunt are always fighting and now since my aunt lives with us they got into a fight and my aunt is leaving but i dont want her to leave how do i stop her?? HELP ME PLEASE SOS

    • stopyourdrama says:

      Hi Karla
      Thanks for your question. It sounds like your aunt is a source of support for you and it sounds like it would be very upsetting for you to have her leave. The real fact is, there is nothing you can really do to keep your aunt there if she wants to leave, but there are some things you can do to express yourself, and to set yourself up for the support you need.
      You can express your feelings.
      You can have a relationship with both of them separatey.
      You can become determined to stay out of the middle of their fight.
      You can set a boundary so that you keep your own energy clear of drama.
      Here are some suggestions…

      You can express your feelings (without blaming anyone) by telling your mom and your aunt how you feel.
      Here is a way to do it so that it doesn’t trigger more drama: “Mom, and Aunt….I love you both very much and when you argue it hurts me. I wish the two of you could find a way to fix your differences so we could all get along.”

      Try not to take sides, or get stuck in the middle. You can not fix this one, and there may be many things that you do not know or understand. Adults often have very complex lives, but the only thing you can control is your relationship with your aunt, and your relationship with your mom. Get clear on how you can still be a part of both of their lives without getting caught in the middle or listening to their drama about each other. Here is what you say when one of them tries to talk to you about the other: “I love you both and I have made a decision to just love both of you…so it wouldn’t be right for me to take sides. I trust that you are both smart adults and eventually you will do the right thing and work it out.”

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