How to Deal with Difficult Family Members

Marcelina Hardy, MSEd, BCC
Sisters Fighting

Do you have a family member you just can't deal with? You want to love her but you just don't know how to handle the things she says and does to you, right? Well, there is hope. Knowing how to approach a difficult family member, what to say and what to do, can help you finally stop dreading every interaction you have with her.

Save Yourself from Irritating Family Members

How to Approach

Family members are who they are; as much as you want them to be different, they won't ever change. The only thing that can change is how you see them. Debbie Mandel, MA, a stress reduction specialist and coach, agrees that if you don't like what you see in a family member, change what you see and how you react.

Focus on the Positive

Before meeting with your family member, don't focus on how much he irritates you when he does this or that. Instead, think of all the qualities you like about him. Focusing on the good rather than the bad will prepare you for dealing with the actions that do annoy you. This is because your stress level won't already be heightened before you even see him, which will make you more able to tolerate him.

What to Say

Sometimes, there isn't much you can do to avoid the annoyances of your family member. This is when you should employ some good conflict resolution techniques.

  • Use "I" statements. Tell her, "I feel threatened by comments like that" or "I become easily offended about topics like these." When you use "I" statements, it takes blame off of the person you are speaking to, which then helps him become less defensive.
  • Give the person a choice. If the person is doing or saying something that is offending you and doesn't stop when you try to change the topic or when you voice your lack of appreciation for his thoughts, state that the person can either end the discussion or you will have to leave. You can say, "I will not discuss this topic. If you'd like to continue, I will have to leave."
  • Set limits with a gentle tone. Some difficult family members want to run the show and think that people should accommodate them, if this is the case in your situation, try setting limits in kind regard. Say, "I understand that you need (want) to do this, but I have this that I would like to accomplish. So let's figure out what to cut out and what we can do to get it all done."

What to Do

If you have a loved one who is doing things that make you upset, you may want to try the following:

  • Ask the person to stop doing it. Some people want their family members to stop acting a certain way, but never say anything to them. This means the person has no idea his actions are causing any harm.
  • Keep meetings short. Don't plan to spend the entire day with the person because that makes the opportunity greater for her to annoy you.
  • Avoid topics that spark arguments. If you know that discussing politics usually ends up in a heated debate, avoid the topic. If your family member insists on discussing it, try to change the subject. If you can't change the subject, step away from him by going to another room or ending the meeting.
  • Avoid or change the situation that causes your family member to annoy you. For example, if she doesn't like to sit in traffic and complains about it the whole time, you may want to choose to meet her at a time that traffic isn't heavy.

Let Time Heal

Keep in mind that you have some built up resentment towards your difficult family member, which can make changing how you feel and reacting to him or her difficult. However, if you try your best at implementing these changes, giving yourself some time to adjust and not throwing in the towel if you still are feeling yourself break every time you are with him, the situation should begin to ameliorate. As much as you would like these tricks to automatically make your relationship better, it doesn't happen overnight. Give yourself time and soon you'll be able to breathe easier.

How to Deal with Difficult Family Members