Challenging Relationships (Part II)


In last week’s episode, we started talking about challenging adult relationships. I asked you to think about who that person(s) is for you. Now, this week we will talk about setting goals for those relationships and the impact of idealizing these relationships. In the previous episode, we discussed that some of the people who challenge us the most are those who have different beliefs, world views, and levels of emotional intelligence than we do. 

Having a world full of people who are a carbon copy of ourselves and our beliefs just isn’t realistic. And frankly, may even be a little boring. But just because we are different, doesn’t mean we can’t have a positive relationship. 


In last week's episode, we started talking about challenging adult relationships. I asked you to think about who that person is for you. Some of the people who challenge us the most are those who have different beliefs and different worldviews and different levels of emotional intelligence than we do. But frankly, having a world full of people who are a carbon copy of ourselves and our beliefs just isn't realistic. And frankly, it probably would be a little boring just because we're different, doesn't mean we can't have a warm, positive relationship. If you haven't already listened to part one of challenging relationships, go back and do that first. Now this weekend part two, we'll be setting goals for those relationships, as well as understanding the impact of idealization, building connection, and making positive change. And because I do have so many things that I want to include, I decided to extend this into a three-part series. And next week we'll be talking about boundaries, building connections, and making positive change.

Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of simple families. Simple Families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based in my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

Thanks so much for tuning in today. If you haven't already listened to part one of challenging relationships, make sure you rewind and start there because today we'll be moving forward. But before we do that, I want to thank Prep Dish for sponsoring today's episode Prep Dish has been a valued part of our family for years now, but I will say at first I was a skeptic. I thought, why would I need a meal planning service? I can find recipes online. I have cookbooks, but Prep Dish is more than just a few recipes sent to my inbox each week. I also get a Grocery List and a Prep Day List that enables me to do the bulk of the food prep in advance. Before I actually serve the food. I especially love that the prep work can be done anytime, which allows my husband and I to coordinate our schedules and do it together. And I will tell you that having much of the work done in advance makes the weeknight dinner time hustle go so much more smoothly. I encourage you to try it out.

You can get two weeks free by going to Again, if you want to try it and get two weeks free, go to back to today's episode. Last week, we started the discussion of challenging relationships. We all have them and with the holidays upon us and an election approaching different values and beliefs may become even more apparent in our intimate adult relationships. So how do we handle them? How do we move forward? How do we stay connected to these people who sometimes seem so different from us? Let's start by thinking about what do you want this relationship to be? We all have idealizations about relationships. It can be really easy to idealize what we think we want a relationship to look like, right now in the day and age of social media, we see the relationships, other people, and sometimes they look so perfect, right?

There's national sister day and grandparents day. There's a day and a time to celebrate everyone in your life, which is wonderful. But maybe you have a challenging relationship with your dad. You see all these photos of your friends, spending quality time with their dads, and we see what looks like other relationships that other people have looking so beautiful and maybe even easy, perhaps. So you saw pictures from Christmas morning at your best friend's house. And her family looked so happy. They're all smiling and laughing, and the grandparents are loving on the grandkids. The photo just exudes, warmth and love everywhere yet at your house. On Christmas morning, everyone's fighting and arguing and complaining about what they don't get. Thanks to social media. Idealizations have become a huge issue in relationships. In the current day age with social media, our lives are so interconnected and we have these visual representations of what other people's relationships look like, or at least how they want us to think they look.

You might see your friend's spouse with the kids all the time, taking them out on the weekends and giving her a lot of free time. Or at least that's how you interpret it. Maybe you see your friend's brother stepping up to be an amazing uncle everywhere you look. Other people have relationships that you want. And as most of us know what we're seeing is usually just a glimpse of reality that Christmas morning shot at your friend's house. Capturing all those smiling faces. It's really hard to know what was actually going on. Every family, every intimate relationship has some level of conflict. And when we start developing these idealizations about what these relationships and these people in our life are quote unquote, supposed to look like. And the ways that they're quote unquote, supposed to behave, we can often set ourselves up for disappointment.

When we feel like there are and things that these people in our lives are supposed to do, and then they don't do them. We can feel let down and disappointed. So think about your person, your challenging person. What are you idealizing about this challenging person? What are you wishing that they did or wishing that they didn't do, maybe that you wish you were supported in, or you wish that they praised you more or noticed your achievements, or maybe you wish they gave you more physical contact or physical attention? What sort of ways could you be idealizing this relationship? And because of these idealizations, maybe the relationship is not measuring up. Sometimes it's all about perspective. We all have core beliefs about the relationships in our lives and core beliefs are these ways that we expect the people around us to behave and to interact with us.

Core beliefs are things that have developed over the course of our entire lives. You might have a core belief that grandparents should always care for their grandchildren, that they should always be available and that they should be their number one priority in life. And then you have kids and it turns out that the grandparents in your kid's life actually really prefer just to golf or go on vacation. And they don't prioritize taking care of their grandkids. That result is their behavior is acting in direct opposition of your core belief, or maybe it's something as simple as in your home growing up, your dad always took care of the manual labor around the house. He always took out the garbage and changed the light bulbs. And then when you got married, your partner didn't do that stuff. It was your core belief in life that that's what partners are supposed to do, because that's what you've always known.

It's what you've come to expect. So, these core beliefs, the things that we have come to know as true our entire lives, maybe acting in opposition of what we're seeing in the relationships right in front of us right now. So these long held core beliefs that have often existed within innocence childhood about expectations for relationships are coupled together with these idealizations these romanticized images of what we see on social media and what we see in our communities. They have an impact on the way that we view the people in our lives. Just because your partner doesn't change. The light bulbs doesn't mean that he or she is a bad partner. The truth is your partner probably contributes in ways that your own father maybe never did, but it's always easier to focus on what they're not doing than what they are doing. Comparison truly is the thief of joy.

I want to talk for a minute about vertical and horizontal family structures. Now this was something that I learned about in Andrew Solomon's book, far from the tree. I'm going to try to regurgitate it and read some quotes from his book, but I will tell you the very best way to truly understand this is to read the book yourself. This was discussed in chapter one it's a thousand page book. You may or may not need to read it all. But chapter one was so powerful. I absolutely loved it. So Solomon's book far from the tree talks about what happens when the Apple falls far from the tree. What happens when a child is born into a family and that child grows in a way that is different or unique to the existing family structure, that child may have a different identity, may have a different belief system.

Now, this in particular talks about the parent child relationship. But I think there are so many elements that can be applied to the other intimate relationships in our lives too. Solomon wrote this book, not as a parent, but as an adult child of parents, parents, whom he never completely embraced and accepted by Solomon is gay and dyslexic and has many elements to his identity that were different from his family of origin. In his book, he talks about what happens when the apple falls close to the tree, which he calls a vertical identities because they fall straight down below the tree. When a child takes on the lifestyle and the identity and the beliefs and the habits of their own parents. And then he talks about the children who fall far from the tree who take on identities and beliefs or disabilities that leave them far from the tree, which he calls horizontal identities.

I'm going to read you the first paragraph from the book, which I think to be incredibly eye-opening and pulled me in. There's no such thing as reproduction. When two people decide to have a baby, they engage in an act of production. The wide spread use of the word reproduction for this activity, with its implication, that two people are braiding themselves together is at best a euphemism to comfort prospective parents before they get in over their heads. It is often ourselves that we would like to see live forever. Not someone with a personality of his own. Having anticipated the onward March of our selfish genes. Many of us are unprepared for children who present unfamiliar needs. Parenthood abruptly catapults us into a permanent relationship with a stranger. And the more alien, the stranger, the stronger the whiff of negativity, we depend on the guarantee in our children's faces that we will not die.

Children whose defining quality annihilates, that fantasy of immortality are a particular insult. We must love them for themselves and not for the best of ourselves in them. And that is a great deal harder to do, so you might need to rewind and listen to that passage again, to really grasp it. This is a pretty heavy book with a lot of amazing, yet deep concepts in it. But I think it presents us with this idea that within the family system, we have very much evolved to reproduce humans, to create a legacy for ourselves. And when that legacy looks different than we anticipated, and that legacy falls far from the tree, the relationship can feel strained. And I love that last line. We must love them for themselves, not for the best of ourselves in them. And that is a great deal, harder to do.

Solomon goes on to talk about how vertical identities are usually respected as identities? Yeah. Horizontal ones can frequently be treated as flaws as an adult child with a horizontal personality himself, Solomon spoke about his own relationship with his parents. By saying, I think their primary experience was of having a child who spoke a language that they never thought of studying. So I want you to think about this. Do you have a horizontal identity, perhaps you're a minimalist who is the child of hoarders, or you're a Christian who was raised by Jewish parents. If you are falling far from the tree, you'll probably know that this, that this challenges your relationship with intimate people in your life, your siblings included, in particular if you have siblings who fall close to the tree, you may feel even farther. Solomon also talks about in our world today. Anyone with access to a computer can find other like-minded people.

They can find places to replant themselves. He said, vertical families are famously breaking down in divorce, but horizontal ones are proliferating in the current times that we're living in. It's easier than ever to find other people in the world that have the same beliefs as you, that have the same world views as you, and you can surround yourself by those communities, whether they're online or in person. And when you do that, it may make you feel even further from the tree, even further away from your family of origin. In his book, he went on to interview dozens of strangers who are raising kids, who are far from the tree. And he left us with some hope and saying, I realized that I had demanded that my parents accept me, but had resisted, accepting them, once I did, I was glad to have their ubiquitous company.

So maybe you have to rework the goals for relationship. What do you want this relationship to be? You can't based it on your core beliefs that you have from childhood, you can't based it on the idealization of images that are presented on social media. Instead you have to identify goals based on the relationship that you have with the person in front of you right now, your goal with your sister who you struggle with, may not be to have semi-annual girls' trips, where you lay in front of the pool, drinking margaritas together. Instead, you might just strive to spend time in same room without totally upsetting each other. To be able to have a conversation about the good things in your lives, to be able to see each other's strengths, ask yourself what are the realistic goals that you have for this realtionship in your life, baby steps.

Remember, I think about the impact that this person has on you. I know for me, when I'm in the room with one of my challenging people, it can feel like they suck the air right out of my balloon in order to fill up their own. It quite literally feels like it changes the air in the room. And sometimes that brings out the worst in me and makes me say things I wish I hadn't said and do things I wish I hadn't done, but the truth is it's not the other person bringing out the worst in me. It's me letting out worst in me. I'm in control of my own emotions. I'm in control of what comes out of my mouth. I'm in control of keeping the air in my own balloon. And that's such an important reminder or mantra to adapt because we are in control of our own happiness.

And no one can take that from us. So while the people in our lives challenge us and they definitely have an impact on us, sometimes negative impact. We have to make choices about who we want to be when we're with them. And when we're not with them, we have to take responsibility for our own actions too. Now, if you're far from the tree, you might feel like you need to replant yourselves, and it's okay to replant yourselves. It's okay to take your seed and replant it elsewhere. You don't have to be hanging by a thread in this relationship, but you can still keep proximity. You can still maintain love and connection within limits and within boundaries. And we're going to talk more about that. But first let's talk about the power of group identity. A group could be two people, or it could be 10 people, whatever it is that group forms an identity.

The things they have in common group identity refers to a person's sense of belonging. And those were the vertical identities who fall close to the tree, often have a stronger group identity. And when we take ourselves and replant somewhere else, and we move in another direction, it can feel like rejection in both ways. It can feel like we've been rejected by the people we love. And it also can feel to the people. We love that we're rejecting them. If you've been moving towards a simpler life, maybe towards minimalism and nobody in your family is, and that wasn't the way that you were raised. It can feel like you're rejecting the ways of the groups that you belong to. If you were raised by a hoarder, and then all of a sudden you're a minimalist. Seeing the way that you're changing your life can make your own mother feel like you're rejecting the way that you were raised.

Even if you never say that to her, if you were raised than a liberal family, and you find yourself to be more conservative as an adult, you may feel a loss of group identity, whatever the identity changes that you're making. When you step outside of the group or change the way that you identify with the group, even if you're making positive change, it can still feel a little bit icky to the people around you. It can feel like rejection to those who are still operating in the old ways. The ways that you were doing things before, you know, maybe you stopped buying birthday gifts because you're trying to adopt a less, is more philosophy and they're still buying birthday gifts and you complain about it. It's going to be confusing for them. That all of a sudden the things that you've been during your whole life and the things that they've been doing their whole lives are now quote unquote, bad or not approved.

So we have to be careful that when we're replanting ourselves and when removing another tree directions, that the people in our lives might be staying still. They might be holding onto their old ways and that's okay. It doesn't make them less. We can still love them and have a relationship with them. And there's absolutely potential to stay close and loving and connected to these people. Even if our values start to diverge, even if those people don't meet up at the idealizations that we have for them, even if those people don't match up with the core beliefs that you've developed over the course of your life, it's still possible to have a relationship it's still possible to make room for them, but you have to be open to what's that going to look like. I hope you've enjoyed this episode next week. We're going to be wrapping up these series.

The three part series, talking about setting boundaries, building connection, and making positive change. Speaking of making positive change, I am getting ready to open up enrollment for the mental unload, which is my renowned program on reducing mental clutter. In this program, we focus on simplifying your mental load and on simplifying partnership. I only run this program three times a year. So if you want to get on the wait list, go to Thanks so much for tuning in. If you've enjoyed this episode, leave a rating or review on iTunes that helps the show to reach more people, have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.