My house is the place family chooses to gather for the holiday. This Thanksgiving I wanted to make sure everyone was safe so I told them we would not be having a family gathering. I mentioned that I would feel terrible if anyone caught Covid-19 from exposure at my house. The family showed up anyway, each with a reason why it was okay for them to come. How do you lovingly shut the door to uninvited guests who are putting you at risk?
No, Thank You
Dear No, Thank You,
Don’t take this as a criticism. Just join with me for a moment in marveling at your question. First of all, marvel that you’re even asking this question. The answer is patently obvious. What’s amazing is the moral gymnastics we do in our minds that make the answer seem complicated.
Isn’t it ironic that when others violate our boundaries, many of us feel responsible for coddling them? I’m asking you to marvel for a moment so you can get the proper bearings for what I will advise.
Why is it that when you clearly told your relative (let’s call him Bob) not to come to Thanksgiving dinner, and here he is standing on the doorstep, that the emotions you feel are uncertainty, fear, and responsibility? Can you see how backward that is? You should feel shocked, offended and violated.
If the scene played out the way it should, your brother would be stammering an apology and pleading for entry rather than staring at you righteously and expecting a warm welcome. The complexity of the problem exists nowhere other than in your mind.
Once you frame the situation correctly, you’ll know exactly what to say.
Here’s the proper frame:
- You have a right to protect your safety any way you see fit. End of story.
- You don’t need his agreement about what is safe and what isn’t. You don’t have to persuade him that COVID is real, unreal or something in between. This isn’t a committee decision. If you’re hoping to persuade him, you’re making your decisions subject to his approval. That’s no way to live.
- He consciously violated your clear request. You told him not to come. He came. This is about him, not you.
- You are responsible to treat him with respect, but not to make him feel good. There is a difference between caring about others feelings and being responsible for them. When you set and hold a boundary, others may display anger. If you make yourself responsible for that, you are taking responsibility for their emotional life. Once again, that’s no way to live.
Now that you see things right, you know what to do. Right?
You open the door only wide enough to stare incredulously at Bob. Then you respectfully, but honestly, let him own the problem. “Bob,” you say, “Happy Thanksgiving. I told you we will not be allowing those outside our immediate household to come for Thanksgiving. Why would you come anyway?”
Is he likely to leave in a huff? Yes. Is he likely to blame you, at least for a while? Yes. And once he gets finished pouting and being defensive, is he likely to honor your boundaries in the future? Yes.
There is often pain in the process of resetting relationship expectations. But a few episodes of discomfort today is a small price to pay to avoid a lifetime of passive resentment.
Thoughts? Join the conversation in the comment section below.
The ideas expressed in this article are based on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Conversations. Learn more about Crucial Conversations