David Cunningham on Dealing Powerfully with Relatives over the Holidays, Part 2

Presented here is part two of Sallie Felton’s radio interview with Landmark Forum leader David Cunningham about dealing with relatives over the holidays. Read part one here.

                                                Sallie Felton: Here’s another one: "My sister is bossy. She’s trying to control everything. What do I do about that?"

David Cunningham: Well, on that one, Sallie, I think humor goes a long way.

Sallie Felton: Me too.

                                    David Cunningham: I just think sometimes, you know, there’s certain characteristics we all have, aren’t there?

Sallie Felton: Yep.

                                    David Cunningham: And sometimes somebody has a characteristic that just annoys us, right?

Sallie Felton: Mm-hmn.

                                    David Cunningham: And we wish they would change it but probably, unless they’re 8 years old or younger, they’re not going to.

Sallie Felton: Mm-hmn.

                                     David Cunningham: So I think on that on that humor goes a long way to really make a difference, and you can talk about it, you can kinda laugh about it, right?

Sallie Felton: Exactly.

                                    David Cunningham: And so if my sister did something that I thought was bossy and was upsetting to me, I could kinda just laugh and go, "Oh, I almost did it. I almost got upset about that. I almost reacted to what you just did," okay, and start to laugh about how, you know, how on your side of it, you do react to things.

Sallie Felton: Mm-hm.

                                    David Cunningham: That would be one thing. I think humor on that one goes a long way.

                                                Sallie Felton: Mm-hmn. I agree. David, I love the suggestion that you sent me. I loved it. In that, why don’t you coach me on one of my challenging relationships to demonstrate to the listeners your technique. For example, one relationship in my life that challenges me is – how about disappointment that my sister’s not coming for Christmas?

David Cunningham: Okay, good. Is it something that she’s done before or –?

Sallie Felton: Every other year.

David Cunningham: Well, let’s just look right there, right? Okay?

Sallie Felton: Mm-hm.

                                    David Cunningham: So first off, with your sister not coming at Christmas, there’s that event, right? She’s not coming and that’s what’s actually happening. And there’s a difference between her not coming for Christmas and what that means to you. And, Sallie, I bet that does mean something, I bet that it means it’s not just for you like, "Oh, she’s not coming at Christmas" like "Oh, there’s a phone on the desk."

Sallie Felton: Uh-uh.

                                    David Cunningham: It really is – it’s for you, that means something. Do you know what that means to you?

Sallie Felton: She’s not present.

David Cunningham: Oh, I got that.

Sallie Felton: She’s not with me.

David Cunningham: Mm-hm.

Sallie Felton: We’re close.

David Cunningham: Mm-hm.

Sallie Felton: We’re close.

                                    David Cunningham: Thanks. And then just take it one step further and what’s that mean? If she’s not present, she’s not there with you, she’s not close. What’s that mean?

Sallie Felton: To me, it might mean – I sense her moving away.

                                    David Cunningham: Thanks, Sallie. All right, well, here’s, you know, the first thing to get is that I think if you listen, fundamentally what it means is if she’s not there for the holidays, you can’t be as connected, you can’t be as close on the holiday as if she was there.

Sallie Felton: Mm-hm.

                                    David Cunningham: That somehow her being there physically, if I listened carefully, somehow her being there physically means you can be closer than if she’s not there. And so if –

Sallie Felton: She’s made the commitment.

David Cunningham: Pardon me?

Sallie Felton: She’s making a commitment.

                                    David Cunningham: Okay, good. All right, well, that’s the second piece, right? But first is, Sallie, if you can consider that – let’s suppose she doesn’t come – maybe it doesn’t mean that you can’t be as connected as you want to be, even if she’s not there. Maybe you could be just as connected without her there as if she was there.

Sallie Felton: Mm-hm.

                                    David Cunningham: I bet we could come up with five ideas to somehow – you know, maybe in advance like arrange an early morning phone call and then maybe at some point during the day, arrange a time where again you’re sharing over the phone or something, right?

Sallie Felton: Mm-hm, mm-hm.

                                    David Cunningham: Or, you know, these days, we can even send pictures to each other instantly, can’t we?

Sallie Felton: Correct.

                                    David Cunningham: All right, so I bet we could come up with several ways that if you didn’t get caught in the story that you can’t be as close if she’s not there physically, I bet you could come up with ways that are really creative and actually lots of fun and you would end up being just as close at the end of the day, even though she wasn’t there. That would be one thing.

Sallie Felton: Yeah, exactly.

                                    David Cunningham: Okay, and then on the other one, Sallie, if you go – another thing you might have it mean is that she didn’t come there, she’s not committed, is that what you said?

Sallie Felton: Mm-hm.

                                    David Cunningham: Yeah. On that one, too, I’d ask, okay, well, what does that mean, right? There’s something that that means to you, like maybe it’s that maybe it’s not as important to her as it is to you or something like that?

Sallie Felton: There’s part of me that feels she’s ditching the family of origin.

                                    David Cunningham: Oh, got that. All right. All right. Well, I bet that’s not true, right? I bet that there’s –

Sallie Felton: That’s my story.

David Cunningham: Yeah, I bet it is, isn’t it?

Sallie Felton: Mm-hm.

                                    David Cunningham: And if you could get that, right? And that would be a really useful thing to share with her.

Sallie Felton: Mm-hm.

                                    David Cunningham: Say, "Listen, when you said you weren’t coming, do you know what I made up? I made up that you were ditching your family of origin, and I got that I made that part up." And that part’s not true. So, you know, and then you could ask her also what did she, you know, did she think it meant that? Why’s she ditching her family of origin? She may have something to say about that. But chances are she’ll go, "No, no, no," and she’ll have some – it won’t be that at all.

Sallie Felton: She did.

David Cunningham: Did she?

Sallie Felton: She did. We’ve had this conversation.

David Cunningham: What’d she say?

                                                Sallie Felton: She said it isn’t at all that. She and her husband are totally rethinking what Christmas means to them.

David Cunningham: Uh-huh.

Sallie Felton: And they don’t know what it means anymore.

David Cunningham: Uh-huh.

                                                Sallie Felton: But they’re staying put. They haven’t figured it out yet.

                                    David Cunningham: Very good. Right there, Sallie, there’s an awesome opportunity for you. Do you know what it is? Here’s what it is. That again, if we look at relationships, right?

Sallie Felton: Mm-hm.

                                    David Cunningham: There’s – mostly, here’s where people get upset in relationships again is when we’re not happy with what we’re getting from the other person.

Sallie Felton: Mm-hm.

                                    David Cunningham: But we fail to notice that the other person can’t really give us anything anyway because if somebody’s really loving with me and I somehow get cold or cranky or withhold myself, right?

Sallie Felton: Mm-hm.

                                    David Cunningham: Then even if they’re really – we’ve all had the experience of somebody really loving us and, frankly, we’ve been annoyed. And if we look at that, we really get clear, oh, the only time we’re really happy in life and satisfied with life is when we’re being great with others and really great for others. So right there would be an opportunity for you to really practice that if that’s what she wants for her holidays to wish her well and to really have that really turn out for her so that if she and her husband get to spend the holiday together and really reexamine Christmas and really examine what it means to them, and if you got committed that they really had a great time doing that and that turned out really well for her, you would love being the sister that you’ve always wanted to be with her.

Sallie Felton: I would, I would, I’d love it.

David Cunningham: Yeah, you would, wouldn’t you?

Sallie Felton: Yeah.

                                    David Cunningham: Okay? So the point is, Sallie, for all of us, again, is that there’s always an opportunity in front of us to love who we get to be as a human being, and when we bring that to the holidays, that we love who we get to be, then our holidays are really rich and fulfilled.

                                                Sallie Felton: It’s true. I love it when she gets silly. I miss that. I will miss that part. I will miss it.

                                    David Cunningham: Okay, well, I would make sure you set up in advance, again, set up – if she’s willing, set up just a couple opportunities in the day to really share, you know? And to really just ask her at the end – especially at the end of the day, that day, the Christmas that she’s not there, at the end of the day, ask her in advance if you could talk and find out like what the day was like for her and what did they discover and what did they create.

Sallie Felton: Mm-hm.

                                    David Cunningham: And if she knows you’re really interested in that, she’ll probably have a better Christmas and then at the end of the day, you’ll be really satisfied that you were included in her Christmas even if you weren’t together.

                                                Sallie Felton: Yeah. I had even broached the subject with her that I would love to drive down and have a pre-Christmas dinner with her, just the two of us.

David Cunningham: Mm-hm.

                                                Sallie Felton: Go out to eat somewhere, go to her house and just whip up a dinner, and just the two of us. I’d love to do that.

                                    David Cunningham: Great, great, and one of the things I’d do if you do that is I’d, again, get very interested in how she wants to spend her Christmas so that she knows you really, really, really respect it.

Sallie Felton: Exactly.

                                    David Cunningham: And then, guess what? If she knows you really, really, really respect the way she wants to spend her Christmas, she’ll really, really, really respect the way – what’s important to you about your Christmas, too.

Sallie Felton: Right.

David Cunningham: And she’ll go out of her way to make that happen for you.

Sallie Felton: That’s good, David. Thank you. How else do you help people here?

David Cunningham: By "here" do you mean in the holidays?

Sallie Felton: Yeah. How do you help people who might be struggling?

                                    David Cunningham: Well, I think there’s a couple things. There’s some proactive things you can do about having the holidays be great. I think some of what you and I have talked about so far is responding to something, we’re responding to situations. But there’s some really proactive things to do to make sure that the holidays are really a time of being nurtured, okay?

Sallie Felton: Mm-hm.

                                    David Cunningham: Couple ideas. If there’s something that’s incomplete with somebody in your life, a friend or a family member, suppose you’ve had a fight or an argument or there’s something that happened, you know, a few weeks ago, a few months ago, even a couple years ago that somehow still is there. One of the things that really has the holidays be great is, even before the holiday gets there, go way out of your way to make peace again.

                                                Sallie Felton: Stop right there because we’re gonna have a break and this is the perfect opportunity to jump right back into this when we come back, David.

David Cunningham: Great.

Stay tuned for the third part of this interview.

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