Each of us faces difficult periods in our lives. In these times, it can be easy to turn inward, protecting that raw part of ourselves by keeping it away from others.

However, I submit that we deprive our families of exceptional bonding experiences if we do not reveal our struggles. Here, I list three ways you can use difficult times to build family relationships.

1. Example

Our character shines brightest when we are going through hard times. When we respond to difficulties with courage and humility, we act as examples. We are never the only person of our acquaintance who is struggling. Moreover, it could be that hearing you are having a hard time, and somehow finding a way to cope, is the very thing your spouse or child needs. Being that example strengthens your love because you are giving something, and it strengthens his or her love for you as you fill a need for someone to follow.

My mom is an amazing example to me. Despite addiction, mental illness, and poor influences, she has found her way back to faith in God and a lifestyle that aligns with her beliefs. If I didn't know how much she had struggled to make it to this point, her current successes wouldn't be as inspiring as they are. She helps me to believe that people can truly change for the better no matter how impossible that seems, at the time. I love her more for being someone I want to emulate.

2. Empathy

On a recent visit to see my parents, my dad and I were having a long chat, like we often do, and somehow the topic turned to our health. I blurted out, "I've put on 30 pounds since I got married. Do you have any idea how awful that is to me?" As soon as I said it, I wanted to take it back. I had mentioned my concerns to another family member, and she had minimized my feelings and made the conversation about her. Not wanting that, I prepared myself to change the subject quickly.

But Dad just nodded. "Yeah, I do."

I was floored. I realized he didknow how frustrating that must be for me, and his simple statement of empathy made me feel so much better. It reminded me that I can count on him to be understanding and kind in the face of my heartbreaks and worries. It was a relationship-building experience, and I was so glad I had shared.

You can have a similar kind of experience when you are open about your troubles. Being authentic invites your family members to be authentic, too. There is healing in sharing. You can encourage your children to talk to each other about hard times in school, for example, or confess to your spouse that your aunt's death is having a greater effect on you than you had anticipated. Children may need guidance on exchanging empathy, and your spouse may need some warning that all you want is to share your feelings. But bonds form in these moments of help and validation. When someone asks you for advice or empathy, it is a huge compliment. They trust you based on how you live your life.

3. Identity

A recent Facebook status of mine reads, "Putting my family stubbornness to work! Where there's a will, there's a way!" Every family has weaknesses that seem to be common to everyone in it. Similarly, we can also develop our identity through the family strengths that we share. When you share that you are having a hard time, you not only provide an example and an opportunity to empathize, but you bolster the idea that you, your children, and your spouse are the kind of people who endure. You are the sort of people who are generous even when life makes it difficult. When you are open about your hard times, you may discover just how much you have in common with your family. Together, you can find strength and meaning in your shared challenges.

Communicating with your loved ones about your hardships, rather than trying to keep it to yourself, strengthens your family relationships. By being real with your family members, you help to develop your family identity as people who stand together and can rely on each other, despite whatever your weaknesses and hard times may be.

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