7 Things You Can Do To Fix Your Relationship With Your Parents, According To Experts

by Kristine Fellizar
Originally Published: 
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Like all relationships, the one you have with your parents will change as time goes on. That's especially true once you become an adult and create an entire life for your own. But since you're technically still their child, and always will be, knowing how to create a healthy dynamic with them can be challenging. According to experts, the best place to start is to examine the relationship you have with them now. Sometimes people find that their relationship with their parents isn't as solid as they think.

"There are many ways in our society that enmeshed relationships — especially between adult children and their parents — are not only accepted, but idealized and seen as a possible model for other adult relationships," Dr. Mark Borg Jr, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst who specializes in relationships and author, tells Bustle. For instance, it's commonly believed that having a good relationship with your parents means you'll have healthy romantic relationships.

While there is truth to that, Borg says it's also important to have space. "We need emotional and physical space (including geographical) from our family to be able to separate, become individuals and start our own life and family," he says. When you have a good relationship with your parents, it's easy to assume that your relationship is healthy. But the reality is, many fail to establish healthy boundaries with their parents.

It's not always easy to tell if your relationship is healthy or not. So here are some signs your relationship with your parents isn't as solid as you think, according to experts.


They're Still Demanding Things From You Even If You're An Adult

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If your parents had more of a traditional style of parenting, you likely grew up thinking that your parents are the authority. Everything they tell you to do, you must do. As an adult, there's nothing wrong with doing what they say out of respect for them. But don't think you can't ever be seen as their equal. They don't really have a right to demand things from you when you're already an adult.

"As children, we typically go on to be successful, educated adults that have equally important values and opinions to that of our parents," Nicole Miller, a psychotherapist who specializes in mood disorders, relationships, and transitions, tells Bustle. "In a healthy parent-child relationship the hope is that the parent recognizes this maturity and will interact with their child from the perspective of being autonomous adults." It's important to set "age-appropriate" boundaries with your parents when it's time. According to Miller, communicating your boundaries is essential so everyone is on the same page.


They Make You Second Guess Your Life Choices

If your parents constantly question your decisions regarding your relationships, employment, or the city you live in, your relationship may not be as solid as you think. According to Miller, your parents shouldn't be making you feel like you need to second-guess your decisions. They shouldn't make you feel like your opinions don't matter. They may only want what's best for you, but a solid relationship is one where your parents respect that it's your life and your decisions. According to Miller, it's important to identify your values. "Once you know what you stand for, it's a lot easier to continue to stand-up for yourself and your decisions when they are being questioned," she says.


You Are Way Too Involved In Each Other's Lives

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Is it difficult for you to identify where you end and where your parent begins? If so, Miller says, "This is a sign of enmeshment, were there is little differentiator between the two parties." The problem here is this often leads to you taking on your parent's emotions and feeling guilty for the inability to accommodate their needs. This also works the other way around. Being close with your family is great. It's important to have people there who know what's going on and who can be there to support you. But you shouldn't be too involved in each other's lives. It's OK to have support, but you need to make decisions on your own. According to Miller, working with a therapist can help you untangle from enmeshment. "This takes a combination of setting appropriate boundaries with the other partner and working on your own maladaptive relational patterns," she says.


You Always Felt Bad For Saying "No" To Them

As you know, boundaries are key. But as Borg says, "One of the things that makes setting and maintaining boundaries difficult is that we also often seek agreement, approval, and acceptance for the boundaries we set for our relationship." So even if you know setting boundaries with your parents is important, actually doing it is challenging. If your relationship isn't as healthy as you think, you'll have trouble setting boundaries without making sure your parents are OK with it. You may even feel bad if you have to say "no." It can make you feel like you're disappointing them in some way. But set your boundaries and stick to them. At some point, your parents will also need to learn that you're an adult who deserves just as much respect as anyone.


You Always Try To Rebel Against Them

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"One of the basic developmental tasks of a child is to individuate, which means to separate and become different from the caregiver or parents," Jessica Glenn, LCSW-S, a family systems therapist who works with adults trying to form healthy relationships with their parents, tells Bustle. Individuation plays out during adolescence when you start "leaving" your parents by spending time with friends, dating, and creating your own identity. If it's done in a healthy way, Glenn says you should be able to maintain your sense of autonomy while being interdependent with your family as an adult. However, if it's not done in a healthy way, you may find yourself constantly rebelling against your parents to the point that you don't want to depend on your family for anything. In this case, having an honest conversation with your parents can help to clear up issues from the past. From there you can slowly build a closer relationship.


6. You Always Feel A Need To Impress Them

People who don't rebel may go the opposite direction and become too dependent on their family. According to Glenn, they may become adults who don't have their own ideas, can't make their own choices, and will rely on the approval of their parents at all times. "This can lead to feelings of anxiety, fear of rejection by your family, fear of leaving home or being too geographically far from your family," she says. In this type of situation, therapy with a family systems, relational, or attachment psychotherapist can be helpful.


Seeing Them Again After Being Apart Always Makes You Anxious

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Seeing your parents after being away from home from some time should make you excited. But if you ever become anxious just thinking about it, or you don't feel completely relaxed around them, your relationship may not be as solid as you think. If you notice yourself becoming anxious about spending time with your parents, it's important to ask yourself why. If you're afraid of what they might think of you now or if you feel pressured to be another version of yourself around them, Glenn says you may need to grow in your differentiation of self.

"Your parents will always be your parents," she says. "The goal is to depend on them in a healthy way but also for them to see you as an adult."

It's very possible to have a healthy dynamic with your parents. Recognizing that your relationship with your parents isn't as healthy as it could be is a great place to start.

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