Dealing with Difficult Family Members

I think it’s fair to say that we all have at least one family member that really seems to get under our skin. They say things that shouldn’t be said. They say things to put you down. To make matters worse, they’re related to you so you’ll eventually have to see them at family gatherings and such. I have some experience dealing with difficult family members and my Uncle Jesse* is one of those people.

Anybody who knew the relationship that my Uncle Jesse and I shared when I was in college would have never guessed that now we don’t speak. He was one of my biggest supporters in college. I didn’t have a car in college and getting rides to the grocery store was a pain. Luckily, I had my Uncle Jesse and he would often come out to campus and take me to the grocery store. Sometimes, even paying for my groceries. After I graduated from college and moved back home, we still kept in contact and had a decent relationship. It wasn’t until after my other uncle, Orlando, passed away that our relationship drastically changed.

Here I am making my gingerbread house

I always knew that my Uncle Jesse was not a drinker and a very “godly” man. To him, drinking was forbidden and a sin. On Christmas Eve 2016, my oldest girl cousin, Sarah* on my mom’s side invited all of us younger cousins over to watch Christmas movies, make gingerbread houses, and to bake cookies. Just a fun time for us to all get together and enjoy each others’ company following the death of our uncle. Four of us cousins were of legal drinking age and someone brought over a bottle of Bacardi that he had won at a work raffle.

Margie’s Cookies – a secret family cookie recipe that only few have the recipe for

We decided to partake in some Christmas spirits. Rum and Coke was the drink of the day and it was delicious!

Later that afternoon, my Uncle Jesse’s two daughters came over and they were both still in either high school or middle school. We included them in our movie watching and cookie baking fun. We did not ask them if they wanted a drink because we knew that their father was very particular when it came to that. But, we did ask them if it made them uncomfortable if we continued to partake and they both said they didn’t have a problem with it.

Mini chocolate chip cookie crust cheesecakes topped with cherry filling

The day continues and we are all having a great time until Ruth* gets a phone call and excuses herself from the room. We didn’t know who was on the phone and didn’t ask any questions. About 30 minutes later there is a knock on the door and it is Uncle Jesse at the door looking to pick up his daughters. He comes into the room stone cold and with a very disapproving face. Sarah asked him if everything was okay to which she got no response. Next thing you know he asking both Sarah and I to step outside because he needed to speak with us. We oblige because didn’t think anything of it.

The first thing that came out of his mouth was, “Did you know that giving alcohol to a minor is a punishable offense of at least a year in jail?”

All of our ginger bread creations

Sarah and I looked at each other in complete and total shock. How could someone that we thought cared for us even think of throwing us in jail?

He continued to ramble on and belittle us about being disappointed. He immediately left without giving either one of us a chance to say a word. We both called our moms in tears because of the encounter. We had decided that we both were not going to go to his house the next day for Christmas.

Christmas Day my mom made me go to his house so she could try to hash out the problems. Uncle Jesse and his wife did not want to listen to a single word that I said and I knew then that I would never have a good relationship with this man because he wasn’t willing to be open-minded.

Whenever I see him now, it is a simple hello and goodbye and that’s it.

As time has gone on, I have come to realize that there are ways to deal with the Uncle Jesse’s in your life. Here are some tips on how to deal with a difficult family member:

1. Don’t try to fix them

Accept them as they are. It is human nature to try to “fix” someone you care about. More likely than not, your efforts will not be rewarded. Accept that they are not able to be changed. They have always been that way and always will be that way. The only exception to this is if you notice that they are truly trying to make an effort to listen and meet you halfway.

2. Be Present and Direct

4. Know that the person is trying to stir up conflict and cause a reaction.
Try to prevent getting into a fight-or-flight response. You do not want an argument or heated discussion to erupt. Stay true to yourself. Stay grounded. Be direct and assertive. Speak from a place of confidence. Be aware of how the discussion or argument is elevating and leave the conversation before it gets to a point of no return. KNOW YOUR WORTH.

3. Don’t take the bait

They are trying to get a rise out of you. Keep calm and think about what they’re doing before blowing up and giving them what they want..

4. Watch for trigger topics

There are topics that are points of disagreement and disharmony. Recognize what they are and their purpose. Be prepared to either address these issues in a direct, non-confrontational way or to deflect the conflict if the atmosphere becomes too heated.  

5. Let the other person be “right”

This one is extremely difficult. When we let go of our need to be right, we deepen our acceptance of a situation and we engender peace despite differences. Rather than simply listening to a family member, so that you’re able to counter what that person says, try to listen for the sake of understanding. Where is he or she is coming from? This doesn’t mean you need to agree, just that you’re showing that person a basic level of respect.

Rather than interrupting with counter-arguments, try to paraphrase back the points you think a person is making, and acknowledge the emotions he or she seem to be expressing.

6. Take care of you first

This is the most important one! Never let a relationship with someone infringe upon your own well-being. Visualize your boundaries and make sure that you are guarding your protective barrier. Don’t let them take over your space unless you invite them in.

If you take into account all of these tips, you will be able to tackle any difficult relationship in a way that will boost your mental awareness of each situation and your mental health.


*Names changed to maintain confidentiality

25 thoughts on “Dealing with Difficult Family Members

  1. 31i55a R3n33 says:

    it makes you wonder what the purpose of all that was for… but it’s like if a family member died, and say uncle jesse was close to them, very close. there may have been a chance that a reason why he was against drinking or didnt like to drink (much more than being a “sin”) that it may have to do with the family member who died. and if seeing alcohol reminds uncle jesse of that family member and who knows what the story is between those two, it makes sense why he reacted the way he did towards underage drinking.

    that being said, i dont think it’s fair for uncle jesse to be treating you the way he does when you both used to be very close. unless you’re a reminder to him of the family member who died. and that makes sense why he is the way he is towards you.

    im sorry that this happened to you and im sorry that not only did you lose a friend, but you also lost uncle jesse as being your uncle.and it must be very hard for you to write this blog post, knowing what you once had with someone isnt there anymore and that brings up all sorts of memories.

    i also am very sorry for your loss as well (the passing of your other uncle). i feel like uncle jesse is still hurt and grieving over the other uncle, and he’s taking it out on you who used to be a very close family member.

    p.s. i appreciate the helpful tips you gave

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Lisa says:

    Thanks for sharing your tips. In my family, we avoid talking about politics. That seems to be the most divisive topic. I’ll keep your tips in mind next time we have a family gathering.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jackie Espada says:

      I totally agree with not talking about politics. From time to time, someone still tries to bring it up at our family gatherings and I just see myself out of the conversation because I really don’t want to deal with the negativity. Thank you for your comment!

      Like

  3. Maria (Artsy Cupcake) says:

    Some great advice. Especially the don’t try to change them tip. Too many people waste time trying to change someone else or even taking their actions personally. Not worth it, all we can do is worry and take care of ourselves and those we are responsible for. Thanks for the great article!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Adrienne says:

    This was a really good post ! I also currently had a bit of conflict with some of my family members and the things you suggest are some that I have done as well. My brother always says that silence is the best answer because after a while people argue with themselves and look crazy lol. Thank you for sharing & I hope moving forward you won’t have to encounter this again with someone else.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. minimalistmama22019 says:

    Great post and advice! Definitely something we can all relate to. You’re so right about trigger topics! There are several in my family. And it seems like some people like to bring up all of them as often as possible! And just walking away, letting the other person be “Right” is often the only way to keep the peace. Thanks for the tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nyxinked says:

    Wonderful advice and some that I need to put into practice. Coming from a family like mine is difficult, now more than ever, and I need to start putting this advice to good use!

    – Nyxie

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Natsauce says:

    I have a family member who goes in and out of attack mode. I think she is trying, but sometimes it takes me by surprise when she acts so mean. I think she has unresolved anger that she takes out on me.
    I keep my distance for my own sanity, but try to give encouragement when she is kind. I hope she continues to heal. I hope you are your Uncle’s relationship is able to heal as well.

    Natalie
    ThisHomemadeHome.com

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Penny Pinching Ninja says:

    We have had issues with my sister in law for over 10 years now and it had made it very trying when visiting my brother. To say she is difficult is definitely an understatement. We do our best just like your pointers to keep the situation under control at all times though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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