Ask Allison: 'I'm anxious about my partner's brother and his wife living with us 'until they find a place to rent''
Our resident therapist answers your queries about sex and relationships
Q I have two young children with my partner and we have been together for 12 years, now living in a three-bedroom house which we own. His brother and wife will be moving here from Venezuela soon and want to stay with us in Dublin "until they find a place to rent". I don't think they realise how difficult it is to find a place to live and they don't have much money. I am anxious they will stay with us for a long time in a small house and it will cause tension. Am I being unreasonable?
A I wonder who you are questioning about being unreasonable. Is it reasonable or responsible to move to a different country with a housing/rental shortage, with ever-increasing rental rates, and not a lot of money? What I hear is that you are worried about what could potentially happen. The anticipation of what the future may hold may be making you feel fearful. Future worrying won't help you figure out what the next best step or solution is. One fail-proof way of stopping the anxious feelings is to bring it back to the present moment and to figure out what you have control and responsibility over and what you don't have control and responsibility over.
Have you spoken to your partner about how you are feeling? I'm guessing that as you are writing to ask about this you may not have shared all of your concerns. The dynamics of family and that sense of duty can make setting healthy boundaries feel difficult and uncomfortable. Expressing how you feel in a way that it can be heard and understood will help alleviate your feelings of foreboding.
Pen and paper at the ready, I want you to write down the worst case scenario. List your biggest worries, fears and apprehensions. Fear needs direction. When we only bring fear to the cliff edge it feels queasy and that's when it's at its peak. By putting your fears on paper, in full sentences, you will get to a fullstop about where it is that you are.
Some possible concerns you may have are 'How long are they staying for?' and - the most anxiety-inducing two words in the English language - 'What if?'
What if they can't find accommodation?
What if they can't afford any accommodation?
What if they can't move out and have to stay with us?
Answer each of these questions. By doing this you are marking and setting the boundaries of what you feel is OK and what is not. Then sit down with your partner and talk this through. Research shows how you start a conversation will impact how it will end. Start softly, say to your partner that you can see that it must be difficult for him to feel stuck between keeping his brother happy and you. Acknowledge that must be very conflicting for him and say that you have concerns that you want him to know about. Then make a plan together.
Top tip: watch your tone - staying mindful of your tone will keep the conversation productive. If you find you are becoming annoyed, frustrated, upset or defensive, take a 20-minute break.
The 20 minutes is the time that is needed for your brain to calm down. When we begin to feel our emotional temperature rising, tune into that. It sounds simplistic, but an effective tool is to imagine yourself as a traffic light - as soon as your emotions click into the amber mode take this as a directive to try something else. Have you ever found yourself angry and filled with feeling but the words just won't come? This is because you are flooding. Reading your own signals needs to be something you can do quickly because we can get to red very easily. When you flood it is a physiological response to feeling anxious or stressed and it blocks the frontal part of your brain that you need access to to have clear thoughts and to be able to say what you are feeling. Knowing this is helpful in being able to change it - so many of us can relate to knowing exactly what you wanted to say, after the fight is over.
As you hit amber, tell your partner that you can see that you are getting upset by this. Say that you are going to take a quick break of 20 minutes as this is very important to you and you know it is very important to him as well. Showing your good intent to solve the issue will help cool the situation.
Check out 'Quick Coherence Technique' from the HeartMath Institute. It is a three-minute effective meditation that will help soothe and regulate your feelings. See heartmath.com/quick-coherence-technique/
If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at email@example.com