How can I mend fences in a Guess culture friendly way?
December 1, 2019 4:36 PM   Subscribe

I grew up in a loud, dramatic Ask family and married into a negative-emotion-denying Guess family. For Reasons, things have become strained between my nuclear family and our extended Guess family over the last couple of years. If you grew up in a Guess family, how did you repair relationship strains?

Details: In my family this kind of issue would be addressed by 1) naming the reasons for the strain, 2) apologizing for them, 3) attempting to address how to deal with them in the future and then 4) kissing and making up. If I tried to do that with my Guess in-laws, though, it would backfire -- too explicit. My spouse doesn't know how to repair relationship rupture in their family either (the family doesn't really do it, as a family rule).
posted by sockanalia to Human Relations (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (In a way my question has two parts. One is how to repair relationships for the other person without explicit discussion. The second part is how I can feel satisfied myself, when I don't get to "process" things that went wrong in a way that feels natural to me.)
posted by sockanalia at 4:37 PM on December 1, 2019

Totally depends on the Reasons. If there’s something you were doing that was Wrong, or inconsiderate, or something, is there a way to be slightly demonstrative about doing it Right now in a visible way? You know your father-in-law thinks powered lawn-care machinery is evil, so you chat lightly with him about how you got rid of your riding mower, say how great the push-reel mower you got to replace it is and ask for tips on sharpening the blade.

On the other side, if they were wrong but they’re happy to be making up now, watch for that sort of gesture and react graciously to it somehow. This is all hard to describe without specifics, but that kind of thing.
posted by LizardBreath at 4:51 PM on December 1, 2019 [10 favorites]

Okay, I get it. You're from a family who asks for what they want and you have entered a family where you feel like you have have to guess? And so the dialog is dramatic because it obviously drives you crazy. I suggest seeking help from a therapist, who might help you set boundaries and them to be clear about whatever it is they want to talk about. It may be you ultimately will be unable to make certain relationships work. It is clear you care deeply about having your own space. Asking for things should be easy and rarely dramatic, but listening so that you can be sure you are empathetic and motivational, letting them make their own choices. It could be useful to change how you let people in, I am sure there are many people you would do well to not argue with again in future.
posted by parmanparman at 4:53 PM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Even separate from what you were actually fighting about, Guessing what they want from the relationship and coming through with more of it is good too. They’d like to see their grandkids more? Make that happen spontaneously. Their idea of a good time is long conversations about gardening? Bring up the topic yourself.

This sounds self-abnegating, but if they’re nice Guess people who are trying to fix the relationship as well, you should be seeing corresponding efforts from them to make your interactions pleasanter once they pick up on what you’re doing.
posted by LizardBreath at 4:56 PM on December 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Is there someone on his side you do have a good relationship with? A sibling or their spouse maybe? An aunt? Either they can help you with specific advice, or even better, serve as a facilitator. I had to deploy one of these sorts of whisper campaigns to find out if I was invited to my cousin's wedding or not. I couldn't ask directly and put the bride in an awkward position. So I asked my mom, who asked my aunt, who checked with the bride... (And then a week after everything was confirmed the mangled remains of the invitation finally arrived)
posted by Caravantea at 5:15 PM on December 1, 2019

LizardBreath has it-- figure out the Reasons first of all (employ all your resources of emotional IQ, deploy third parties to seek additional data as needed). Then, just be extra-demonstrative about the fact that you understand the Reasons, have come around and are sorry. And if you see opportunities to bend the stick back in the opposite direction, take them.

Ask people have a fight reaction to feeling not-understood and powerless in a relationship; Guess people have a flight reaction. So go out of your way to preemptively make everyone feel extremely safe, considered, respected, appreciated and thought-about.
posted by Bardolph at 5:53 PM on December 1, 2019 [17 favorites]

I'm from a Guess family. If we try to discuss things even now, it ends up in a massive explosion. The only way we go forward is to pretend that Bad Thing never happened and then try to play nice, perhaps while quietly seething. I'm sure this will sound insane to you, but that's how it works for us. We love each other, but we cannot talk.
posted by FencingGal at 6:28 PM on December 1, 2019 [22 favorites]

Ask culture here: In one of those cases I started laughing more noticeably at my dad-in-law's (already funny) jokes. It seemed to work to break the ice. Agree with LizardBreath in that it needs to be spontaneous, you wanna be signalling total lack of resentment (regardless of the truth: it's the kind of issue you just don't get to resolve openly).
posted by ipsative at 6:55 PM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

In my Guess family, we would not mention it explicitly, but after a cooling-off period there would be a show of goodwill in front of other family members. Responsibility for the show of goodwill falls on the family member who was more responsible for the bad situation, or if both parties were equally responsible, the younger generation member or the member who is generally thought to be more reasonable in the family.

Say at Thanksgiving dinner I got into a screaming match with Great-Aunt Agatha and we were both unreasonable and rude. I’d take that night and avoid her. I might even take the next day. But two weeks later at the next family baby shower or whatever, I would make sure to sit next to her and spend more time than usual talking to her and offer to get her a piece of cake. And in the course of that conversation, she might tell a story and mention offhandedly, “oh, my temper can be so bad at times!”
posted by sallybrown at 7:26 PM on December 1, 2019 [54 favorites]

Seconding sallybrown. This is exactly how it works in my Guess family.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:26 PM on December 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

One is how to repair relationships for the other person without explicit discussion.

If there has been an "incident" of some sort, you give it a bit of time for people to cool off, then attempt to move on as if it never happened. For example, reach out to the other person after a couple of weeks and invite them to coffee or something, at which you attempt to act natural and friendly without mentioning or trying to process said incident. Or you wait until the next family event and proceed in the same fashion (which others have mentioned above.)

These little rifts happens all the time in my family and I'm pretty sure this is the only way we ever deal with it. Sometimes the rifts go on for a while because both sides feel like the aggrieved party and refuse to reach out to the other. But usually if one side finally does, the other side is receptive unless there has been some really serious insult or injury.

As the person who has been on more than one occasion the reacher-outer after someone's significantly unreasonable behavior, I have taken to heart the idea that the first step in forgiveness is to realize that someone else's unreasonable-seeming behavior is more about them than it is about you (Dave is just... Dave) and take a step back from taking his Dave-ness personally. And also managing your expectations based on this awareness going forward, and adjusting your behavior and limiting your interactions and level of vulnerability accordingly. Sometimes that means scaling back the relationship a little, and other times it means scaling it back a LOT.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:20 PM on December 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm also from a loud dramatic family where everyone puts all the cards on the table, but I guess our communication is less productive, because it usually ends in a shouting match, leaving every party feel insulted. So then we do also do the guess-family thing, where everyone goes back to to sulk in their own corner for a while, and then we pretend nothing ever happened, and for a while, everyone tries extra hard to just avoid the bone of contention and show good will by being extra nice about unrelated stuff.

I'm still mostly in favour of the preceeding airing of grievances, even if it never resolves anything, because I think it's good to clear the air and I like to know where people stand, and I like people to know where I stand, even if I'm not going to insist on my point if we can find a way to mostly step around it (which should often be possibly among adults. Often the solution to family drama is everyone focussing on minding their own business again). It also makes it easier for me to swallow my pride and play nice again afterwards when I know that I did speak my mind, so in case the other person is actually interested how I feel about things, they can't say I never told them.

I think you should maintain your ask-culture ways of discussing boundaries explicitly, you might just have to give up the expectation that this is going to resolve the conflict quickly and smoothly. Bring up the issue, steel yourself for them to be less than thrilled about it/react badly, then give them time and space to process it in their own fashion, and accept gracefully any olive branches that might be extended without making them explicitely acknowledge the preceeding problem/explicitely admit that they might have been in the wrong.

If you suspect they might have an issue with you, do let them know that you've noticed some waryiness/distance from them lately and ask them what's up (give them face-saving outs - maybe they're just busy?, anyway if there's something you could do to make it better, you just wanted to ask), but don't press the issue when they don't want to talk about it and stick to general showing of goodwill until you can find out specifics, maybe from trusted third parties. But they should know that they're not suppressing their discontent as smoothly as they might think.

I strongly believe it's good for people to meet each other half-way in these matters; if there's someone who always has to adapt and someone whose preference is always indulged, that just causes long-term resentment. If ultimately, they wanna pretend like things never happened, fine, you're going to play along - eventually - but pretending things didn't happen usually works just as well _after_ the shouting match, instead of in its place. (Unless it devolves into verbal abuse, but I trust you wouldn't do that). These are in fact two approaches that can be easily combined; you don't have to choose.
posted by sohalt at 12:07 AM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Despite being from a Guess family I am myself very much Ask and thus can’t really help with good techniques for the Guess people.

But I do have two suggestions for how you can have closure yourself without the direct airing of grievances.

The first option is to discuss it with someone else. Your spouse, the third aunt whom you really mesh with, or a therapist.

The second option is, if you were the wronged party, to find a way to set a boundary that will prevent the same wrong from happening in the future. Say you were prevented from leaving a party when you were tired or sick because your in-laws drove you there. Well that’s easy to fix— always have your own transport (rental, Zipcar, access to public transit, Lyft app). Obviously the solution will depend on your situation. You don’t even have to tell anyone (besides maybe your spouse, depending on what preventative you come up with); but you could also let it slip with a “oh we just think this will work better for us in the future”.

For me, being able to talk it out with someone, and having a plan to prevent a repeat, is a big part of what I would want to get out of a direct confrontation anyway, so I feel better.
posted by nat at 12:31 AM on December 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

Guess family here too and to confirm much of what's been said above: In my family of origin this would be a "pretend none of it ever happened, everyone is coolly polite to each other for a while, eventually we all move past it" situation. If you want to accelerate the process you can do something low-key nice to extend an olive branch but it's essential that it be low key. A compliment or an invitation to something you know they like or going out of your way to do something they like is great; making a Public Gesture of it risks vaguely implying to others in the family that something happened or someone had an emotion, god forbid, and that's Not Done.

This is all absolutely baffling to my partner, who comes from a "yell it out, everyone's mad for twenty minutes and then it's like it never happened" family, but I swear it's how these things work for us. Also, he misses at least 50% of the subtext at all times because it's happening in tone of voice or eyebrow raising or something that I have to catch him up on later. You may want to lean heavily on your spouse here for translating the current level of Family Disapproval As Expressed By Placing A Coffee Cup Down Slightly Too Hard or whatever, it's possible you're missing stuff that would help you make sense of how to proceed.

Can't help with the processing part; in my family of origin that happens entirely in your head, or maybe in a journal, or in the current generation we've gotten wild and newfangled and started going to therapy to process things. Processing with partner/spouse is also acceptable. You definitely never process with other members of the family; if you need to talk about a family rupture, it either happens in the confines of your marriage, or you gotta take it way outside the family circle and talk to someone they will never meet or speak with.

Not a bit of this is particularly healthy, mind you, and I wish you luck in finding a path to walk that lies somewhere shy of this level of deep emotional repression, but that's what it looks like from our side.
posted by Stacey at 5:42 AM on December 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

Original context on the terminology, and more.
posted by WCityMike at 8:30 AM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not a bit of this is particularly healthy, mind you, and I wish you luck in finding a path to walk that lies somewhere shy of this level of deep emotional repression, but that's what it looks like from our side.

Oh yes, absolutely, 100% this. My previous comment was meant only as confirmation of veracity, not endorsement for the method of resolution. I recommend processing this with your spouse and a counsellor, to help you navigate how to work with your in-laws respectfully and compassionately, within their own context—yet without succumbing entirely to the grudge-holding, passive aggressiveness and triangulation that Ask Culture encourages. It’s hard. Good luck, and I mean that sincerely and non-sarcastically.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:42 AM on December 2, 2019

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