Slammer Family

24 Sep

Letterbalm Man's Hands in HandcuffsDear LetterBalm: I come from the poster family of dysfunction. Somebody is always going to jail, in trouble with the court or in rehab. I’ve managed to break the cycle largely because of my wife, a person who has strong values and who’s been a positive influence on me. I’m very lucky to be married to her. Meanwhile, the 2 a.m. phone calls and family crises keep coming. Everybody thinks I’m the go-to guy for everything from supplying bail money to hiring a lawyer. The problem isn’t saying no to them – therapy has helped me see that enabling my family isn’t helping them. What can I say to make them stop calling me for help in the first place?

–No More Bailouts

The method is easy: Say no, every time, and hang up the phone. O.K., maybe not that easy. Ms. L.B. suggests you pick your battles. Train your family that you’ll say “no” to all late-night and desperate calls for lawyers, guns and money and “yes” to requests for family members genuinely striving to be better. They can come to you for advice about education, job searches, careers, health and travel ideas and suggestions for a good dentist. If you have a legitimate reason to participate in an intervention, you’ll be sincerely present. Otherwise, the family shouldn’t come to you for help because it’s unfair to expect you to bail everybody out. If they push back, remind them that if they ever want help from you again, they’d better stop. Don’t lose your cool, ever. Try versions of this, repeatedly, until it sinks in:

Family, from now on, don’t call me for bail money or legal help. It’s not fair to rely on me all the time when you get in trouble. No more desperate, late-night calls. I can’t help you, and I’ll be shutting off my phone. But if you’ve made a sincere decision to help yourself and you need advice, I’m there. Talk to me about career issues or your job hunt or what online courses you might take, I’m happy to help you make your life better.

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