😐😕🙃 This article was co-authored by Klare Heston, LCSW. Klare Heston is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker based in Cleveland, Ohio. With experience in academic counseling and clinical supervision, Klare received her Master of Social Work from the Virginia Commonwealth University in 1983. She also holds a 2-Year Post-Graduate Certificate from the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, as well as certification in Family Therapy, Supervision, Mediation, and Trauma Recovery and Treatment (EMDR).
There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 92% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.
This article has been viewed 503,424 times.
😐😕🙃 You can’t choose your family, which means you might be saddled with difficult family members whom you have no choice but to deal with. If so, you'll want to know how to interact with them and not drive yourself crazy in the process. Deal with your difficult relatives by staying calm and being assertive. Then, follow strategies to make interactions with them more pleasant. Also, it can help to distance yourself from them when it's necessary to save your sanity.
Method 1Method 1 of 3:Working Around Difficulties Download Article
- 1Remain calm. Relatives can have a special skill for getting under your skin. However, if you allow that, you just might explode and make things worse. Get your emotions under control when difficulties arise. Learn how to recognize when you are becoming angry or impatient. When you are triggered, step away to get some fresh air, count to 100, or practice deep breathing.XResearch source
- 2Be assertive by using "I" statements. If you have a run-in with a difficult family member, practice assertiveness to avoid being railroaded. Say what you have to say in as few words as possible. Use "I" statements that allow you to take ownership of your feelings and ask for what you need without causing defensiveness in the other person.XResearch source
- For example, you might say, "I don’t appreciate when you speak for me. Could you please let me answer the questions myself?"
- 3Resist the guilt-trip. Guilt-tripping is often employed by difficult family members. Trying to sway your decisions by making you feel guilty is a form of emotional abuse. You don’t have to play into the trap.XResearch source
- Let’s say your aunt guilt-trips you by saying, "Well, I’ve traveled all this way. I thought you all would at least let me choose the menu for the event." You might respond by saying, "Aunt Margaret, please don’t try to guilt-trip me. We let you select the dessert and one of the entrees. We will be voting on the rest of the menu as a group."
- 4Listen to what they have to say. Have you listened, really listened, to what your difficult family member has to say? Sometimes, all people want is to be heard. Plus, there’s a chance some part of what the person is saying is true. Actively listening to what they are saying may help them feel acknowledged and may enable you to work through a misunderstanding.XResearch source
- If your family member has the reputation of being difficult, you may be overlooking what they have to say out of habit. Take the time to hear them out. Think about where they may be coming from and whether some aspect of their statement is right.
- 5Give them complete freedom in 1 area. Some relatives will complicate the situation because they desperately want to feel involved. Allow your difficult family member to have a job in which they have complete control. Giving them a purpose may keep them busy and out of your hair.XTrustworthy SourceGreater Good MagazineJournal published by UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which uses scientific research to promote happier livingGo to source
- For example, if your cousin stands back and complains when others are cooking, ask them to set the table and tidy up the sitting area.
Method 2Method 2 of 3:Improving Interactions with Them Download Article
- 1Stop trying to change them. It’s a hard reality, but you’re going to have to gain acceptance about your difficult relative. This means letting go of the fantasy that someday they will show up and be a total breeze to deal with.XTrustworthy SourceGreater Good MagazineJournal published by UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which uses scientific research to promote happier livingGo to source
- Accept who they are and the difficulties that come along with dealing with them. You can do this by practicing empathy for the person. Skip the judgements and respect who they are as a person—even if you don’t exactly agree with it.
- You might find that once you learn to accept them, dealing with them doesn’t seem like such a challenge.
- 2Search for their positive qualities. Difficult relatives get a bad rap. They show up and everyone starts moaning and groaning about their negative traits. If you focus solely on the bad qualities, you’ll miss out on the good. Even the worst family members have a good side. Try to find it.XResearch source
- For instance, does your grouchy Uncle Charlie have a sweet-as-honey wife? If he chose her, there must be something good about him. Maybe there’s a soft spot somewhere below the surface. Spending more time with him may help you see it.
- 3Plan to have a pleasant interaction. You can change the way you interact with a difficult relative by setting an intention. Before you’re due to see them, tell yourself that you will commit to an easy, pleasant interaction. By doing so, your brain just may think of ways to actually make that happen.
- Say to yourself, for example, "Lunch today with my in-laws will be satisfying."
- Then, brainstorm some ways you can ensure that it is a satisfying meeting. Perhaps you could think of a few neutral topics for conversation or come up with a positive affirmation to repeat if things go sideways.XResearch source
- 4Practice self-care beforehand. Difficult family members can be incredibly draining. They may require so much of your energy that you have little left over to care for yourself. Counteract that problem by addressing your needs prior to interacting with them.XResearch source
- For instance, if you are due to stay with family on the weekend, book a relaxing day at the spa before you leave. Make sure that you are eating nutritious meals and getting plenty of rest, too.
- If you can, make time for self-care during your visits, as well. For example, if you’re visiting your family for a week, schedule in a relaxing outing on your own. Even excusing yourself for a brief walk around the neighborhood can help you relax and clear your head.
Method 3Method 3 of 3:Getting Some Distance Download Article
- 1Enforce your boundaries. When push comes to shove, you need to look out for yourself. If a difficult relative becomes too much to handle, enforce your personal boundaries. Boundaries are the limitations you set with others to protect your own health and well-being. Let your relative know that they are violating these boundaries and that you need space.XResearch source
- For example, say something like, "Uncle Ralph, please call me before you drop in for a visit. I love seeing you, but it’s not always a good time for me to have guests over, and I need advance notice."
- 2Stand up for yourself. If your difficult relatives continue to violate your boundaries, you will need to assert yourself. Depending on your boundaries, you might decide to finally speak up for yourself and verbalize your limitations to a difficult family member.
- For example, maybe a family member is demanding too much of you. You might say, "Aunt Lisa, I'm doing the best I can. I really need you to back off and let me handle this. Micromanaging me is only making it worse for us both."
- 3Take a break from spending time with family. If your relatives are getting under your skin, you might decide to take a few days away to clear your head. This is perfectly acceptable if it's what you need to do to manage stress or minimize conflict.XResearch source
- Let your family know your intentions by saying something like "This is all becoming a bit much for me. I need a break. I'm going back into the city for the weekend to clear my head."
- 4Get some allies within the family. If you feel alone in coping with a difficult relative, it may help to reach out to others in the family. By forming alliances, you can bounce ideas off one another and come up with more effective ways of dealing with the difficulties. Plus, if someone else understands how you’re feeling, you won’t feel alone.XResearch source
- For instance, talk to your sibling by saying, "I’m going to need some support in dealing with Cousin Harriet this weekend. Do you mind serving as my backup?"
- 5Lean on outsiders for support. No one can understand the dysfunction within a family like its members. Sometimes it helps to go outside the family to vent your frustrations or simply take your mind off things, however. People outside the family may also be more objective about the situation. Lean on your closest friends when you need to decompress.XTrustworthy SourceAmerican Psychological AssociationLeading scientific and professional organization of licensed psychologistsGo to source
- Ask your best friend to go out for drinks in the midst of your family reunion. You’ll look forward to escaping and have someone unbiased to talk to.
- 6Cut ties, if you need to. If difficult family members threaten your mental health and well-being, you might have no choice but to cut contact with them altogether. Spending too much time worrying about your family members or trying to fix their problems can consume your life.
- You might cut ties with the difficult person completely or you might simply choose to no longer allow yourself to be pulled into the chaos they create.XResearch source
- For example, if you have a family member who is addicted to drugs and refuses to get help, you might say, "I'm sorry, but I have to get some distance for myself and my family. I don't want my children in this environment."
- Choose which aspect of "breaking ties" best suits your situation and communicate your wishes to everyone involved.
- You don’t necessarily have to cut off contact permanently. Sometimes you just need a little time and distance to regain balance in the relationship.
Expert Q&A Did you know you can get expert answers for this article?Unlock expert answers by supporting wikiHow
- QuestionHow do you deal with relatives who put you down?
- QuestionHow do you deal with difficult family members?If the family is pretty close, you probably can't avoid them. But if there is abuse, you actually should. Stay centered, get exercise, and prepare yourself for any interaction that is upcoming. Don't always agree if that has been your pattern. Be polite if that has not been your pattern. Try to show some empathy and figure where they are coming from or what they might need.
- QuestionHow do you deal with annoying relatives?Try to change it up. If you usually don't listen, try doing that more. If you don't speak up, set a boundary regarding something that is important to you. Be respectful, but not a doormat. Give in some of the time—especially when something is very important to the other person. Take good care of yourself; do some stress management prior to any interactions with difficult relatives.
About This Article
If you have to deal with difficult relatives, try your best to stay calm but be assertive. While it can be hard to not let your relatives get a rise out of you, it will likely make matters worse. When they push your buttons, try to walk away for a few minutes, get some fresh air, count to 10, or take a few deep breaths. Once you’re calm, try to explain to your family member your feelings or needs. For example, you might tell them “I don’t like it when you speak for me. Could you please let me answer questions for myself?” If you’re spending an extended amount of time with your relatives, see if it's possible to take a few days away from them to clear your head. When getting away for a few days isn't an option, get out for a fun night with old friends to let off steam. To learn how to set firm boundaries with your relatives, keep reading!