If they did it, you can too.
Many are talking about the way Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, have begun paving their way out of the royal family’s traditional dynamics and into a life that works for them.
The two announced in a statement that they would be stepping back as full-time royals, hoping to instead craft a financially independent life and only live part time in Britain.
Family members met at Queen Elizabeth II’s Sandringham estate to talk through the situation, ultimately resulting in a statement from the Queen that said that while she would have preferred that the two remain full-time royals, the family is “entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family.”
The decision from the couple came after a year where they have battled incessant media coverage, reports of rifts within the family and the stress of being a newly married couple, with a new baby, all while under scrutiny in the public eye.
Although reactions to their decision have been mixed, many lauded the couple’s decision to prioritize what is best for them.
“I think it’s really cool that they’re setting some new precedents,” said Lauren Cook, a therapist based in San Diego. “If they’re no longer serving the family and the mental health of all parties involved, it’s OK to reevaluate traditions.”
Although few in the world find themselves in such a complex situation, the royals are not the only ones to face complicated family dynamics.
Whether it’s an estranged family member, siblings who have different relationships with each parent or simply a logistical challenge as many don’t live in the same location, establishing new boundaries with family when not everyone wants the same thing can be difficult.
“This unfortunately happens quite frequently,” Cook said.
The family’s royal meeting, Cook said, was a good example of how families should meet in person and openly communicate when possible, “even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s kind of cringeworthy, and people want to avoid it,” she said.
“We joke about ghosting,” she said, “but families ideally don’t ghost on each other. I think when you can take the time to actually communicate and give each other closure, it’s much more healing.”
Many couples or individuals find they want a different set of expectations, she said. Perhaps someone lives far away and is no longer able or willing to visit as often; other people might be feeling hurt or entering a new stage where they want to spend less time with family.
Estrangement can be hurtful for all involved, said Linda F. Williams, a psychotherapist and founder of Whose Apple Dynamic Coaching and Consulting Services, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For families, it can be tempting to consider whoever is taking time apart as the cause of the problem, but what is more helpful is to know each family member will experience estrangement differently.
“Give yourself a break, understanding that these are normal feelings and part of a healing process,” Williams said.
When possible, communicate that directly and in person, Cook said. Set up a relaxed environment, at someone’s home with coffee or snacks, “taking the wind out of the sails of the conversations,” she said.
“If we can take the time to give each other the respect to have those conversations, even though they are uncomfortable, it gives people closure so they can start to move, on,” she said. “So they’re not sitting up at 2 a.m., ‘Why is this family member no longer talking to me?’ ”
And parents might be the ones who ultimately wish for less time together or setting new boundaries, for example, in a situation with a grown child living at home. “That can lead to some really challenging conversations,” she said.
Not every situation is best handled in person or possible without contention. Some situations might not require more elaboration, instead saying directly, “Right now, this isn’t working for me. I need to take a break from this.”
Remember that everyone will have an opinion, and it is not necessary to share your thoughts or situations with each family member or friend.
“You need to look internally at what’s best for you and your family dynamic, because at the end of the day, those are the only people who are truly impacted,” Cook said.
Decide how much you want to hear about, or discuss, the situation with others, Williams advised. Clearly communicate that and plan how you will handle any conversation arising.
If you’re the person who a family member is disengaging with, allow some time for self-reflection. If you have a trusted friend or family member who you know will tell you the truth, ask for input and be ready to hear feedback, Williams said.
Know that you can’t control the situation, and let the person know you are open to discussion when he is ready.
Remember that in many cases, disengaging or resetting boundaries is a tough situation for all parties. Empathy goes a long way, Cook said.
“Hold a little ounce of empathy for them, to help us figure out, how we can find resolution, even if that means amicably walking away for a time,” Cook said.