Set things up to create emotional and physical safety for yourself. This is the most supportive thing you can do for yourself and for the relationship. Whether the other person likes your new level of self care or not, you certainly aren’t going to seek out more time with them, if you can’t create a positive experience for yourself.
If they want continued relationship with you, they will have to adjust to your limits. People that really care about you will not want to force you into situations where you do not feel safe and relaxed.
1. Limit the time together. If they stay for several days, make plans to be away from them for real or imagined tasks or appointments. Planned meetings, like 45 minutes for tea in a café or an hour for dinner with the whole family, are more likely to go well. Plan ahead how you will end the time. You might say “I have to get home to put the kids to bed.” or “ I have an appointment after this.”
2. It is OK to say “I am not ready to talk about that.” or “ We can email about that later.” if they bring up difficult emotional subjects that you are not ready to delve into. Remind them that your goal is to have a nice time together in the NOW, not go into analysis of the past (if you aren’t ready for that).
3. Structure and predictability are comforting elements that can keep things calmer for everyone. Letting people stay in separate quarters, like hotels, gives more room for each party to meet their individual needs and present a better self during the time together.
4. Plan ahead what you will do if the other person starts a fight or makes aggressive comments. You can stick to your plan no matter what they do. It takes two to make a screaming match! Practice deep breathing and say nothing in response, if necessary.
5. Expect them to be upset about changes you are making in the relationship, if you are creating more distance. You do not need their approval to make these changes. It is your decision. You can sympathize if they complain, saying “Change is difficult” or “I appreciate you coming all this way to see me, anyhow.”
6. If the visitor abused you in the past, be sure that you have other adults around you during the visit. Explain to friends or partner that you just need their presence to buffer you during the visit. You do not OWE someone who has abused you, your continued vulnerability! (even if they do not consider it abuse) You have the right to refuse contact with anyone who has abused you or whom you currently feel afraid of. Family bonds do not include the right to abuse, belittle or harm you.
7. Plan counseling time during the visit to review how you feel and problem solve your safety plan, if needed. If you are out of town, schedule a phone appointment.
8. Take time alone to journal about your feelings and memories so you can hold on to your own perspective and not merge with the visitor’s viewpoint.
9. EXERCISE! You need the endorphins to feel well while under stress. It is also a very easy way to explain your absence from their activities. Eat plenty of protein to replenish the extra strain on your brain chemistry.
10. Have a list of activities and places they can go without you. Give them cheerful support to go have fun. If they refuse, go off yourself and visit a friend or go to the gym.