It usually starts with an innocent request that somehow morphs into a never-ending list of requests. Or maybe an unexpected $20 loan has turned into a flurry of requests to help pay late bills. If you feel taken advantage of by relatives, carefully hit those brakes. With relatives involved, expect feelings to be hurt, but the boundaries you set now will leave all parties feeling respected — eventually.
Make a list of situations that you consider abusive and ones that you know are genuine requests for help. Understandably, a request to help with a sick family member is a part of being family. But asking you to babysit or pet sit at every turn may be taking advantage depending upon the situation.
Talk to those you feel are taking advantage of you. Explain how you feel without being accusatory. There's a chance they will not even realize how you feel. Use neutral words and phrases — "I feel like I need to explain my financial situation," instead of, "Stop asking me for money, and get a job." Explain that while it might seem like you have more money, you are unable to make any more loans because of your own financial obligations. Your goal is to keep the relationship civil while expressing your concerns and needs.
Don't be afraid to say no. You may feel the need to explain yourself, but don't be afraid to simply say no. It is OK — and may even be refreshing — to explain that you are unable to meet a request without having to give a laundry list of details about why.
Speak up if nothing else works. If just saying "no" isn't cutting it, it might be time for a heart-to-heart talk. Be nice but firm. Let the other person know you're feeling used or uncomfortable and explain that you would like to change the way you interact with each other. Be clear and specific. For example, if this is about a person borrowing and not returning your items, consider saying something like, "I'm sorry, but I can't afford to lend you things anymore." Then explain that you don't feel it's fair that your items are not returned, so you've decided not to lend things out anymore. Expect the other person to be upset; it comes with the territory.
Step away if all else fails. Even a short break from the other person might help. If you hope to repair the relationship at some point, let the other person know why you're stepping away. Otherwise, just keep taking phone calls — use your answering machine to screen calls, if need be — and answering emails. When emotions run high on either side, a cool-off period is always a good idea. Sometimes, no words are the best words
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