How to Deal With Problem Family Members Without Losing Your Mind

Creative Commons License photo credit: ju-leo

“You cannot change someone’s point of view using logic if they did not arrive at that point of view using logic.” – Unknown

Everyone has a problem family member. For some it is the strange uncle you don’t leave alone with the children. For others is is a well-intentioned but desperately overbearing mother-in-law. And although the way in which they are a problem may vary, one thing we all share in common is that we struggle to deal with them in a healthy and productive way. In this post I am going to show you a few things I have learned over the years about dealing with problem family members without losing your mind.

Wear the amour of patience
If you don’t have a lot of patience the process of working with and sorting out a problem family member is going to be tough. If you don’t have patience you are going to want to pack up and run away and never see them again. And for a while that might seem like a good idea. Maybe it is. But new problem family members are always going to pop up. So you need to wear the armor of patience, eventually.

Patience is considered the king of all virtues. The reason for this is because it is the antidote and cure to anger which is considered the king of all vices. When it comes to problem family members it is so important to be patient because otherwise you end up dealing with situations by getting angry. And nothing good ever comes from anger.

Anger sows the seeds of discord in a relationship. If you respond in an angry way to a intrusive mother-in-law she will be more likely to return fire with anger. And it escalates. Soon everyone is hot under the collar and family gatherings are completely intolerable because everyone is so tense and nervous.

When you deal with family members using anger you damage your ability to meaningfully communicate. It is quite simple. When you approach someone with what you feel is a genuine issue and they respond in anger you lose trust in that person. The same goes with family. If you respond to their behavior or opinions with anger they will be less likely to meaningfully communicate with you. And then the doors of problem solving are closed for good. Make sure you always respond with patience.

Listen. Actually listen
Have you ever taken the time to actually listen to someone? Ever seen how much more they tell you and how honest they can be when they think that you are really trying to understand? This is an important point to realize if you want to deal with a problem family member.

A lot of the time when we “listen” to people we just wait for our turn to talk. Our mind is not focused on what they are saying but rather it is wandering off thinking about all the ways we can retaliate or it is internally gossiping about how stupid this person is. But it we sat there and actually listened to the person the scenario might become more workable.

The next time your problem family member is trying to express something make sure you listen. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk. Actually listen. Hear what they are saying and try to ascertain the meaning behind their words. If you truly understand their position you might be able to reach some agreement.

Separate the person from their behavior
When I was going through college I worked in a child care center. In this center I had to deal with the worst of spoiled children and their ignorant parents. At least once a week there would be a confrontation where a parent accused the center of doing something horrid to their brat of a child. It was during these times I learned to separate the person from the person’s behavior.

Let me explain this a little bit. There is a person and then there is the person’s behavior. If you want to get through to someone you need to separate the person from their behavior. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say your brother-in-law is being a jerk. Instead of saying, “man you are being a jerk” why not say, “your behavior is really offensive”. A subtle change but it works.

When your separate the person from their behavior it gives them a chance to detach themselves from it. If, on the other hand, you just attack the person they will get all defensive and attack you back. Remembering to do this in the heat of the moment can be hard, but it is well worth it if you can.

Keep the volume of your voice low
If you look at any good debater you will see that they stay calm and collected and they keep the volume of their voice low. This is not an accident. It is a critical element of winning an argument.

If you raise your voice the person you are yelling at will also raise their voice. Then in order to be heard you raise your voice a little more. Then they do the same. Before you know it an otherwise adult conversation has turned in to a shouting match where everyone is angry and pissed off.

If, however, you keep your the volume of your voice low it forces the other person to listen. It draws them in somewhat. But it also keeps you calm and keeping calm allows you to think straight. When you shout your adrenalin levels get all screwed up and you lose your ability to think rationally and form logical arguments. Keep your voice low at all times and project control.

Don’t think about it too much
When you have an argument with family it hurts. It always seems to cut deeper than any other argument. For this reason we tend to think about it a lot after the argument has finished. This is a bad idea.

Going over things in your head over and over never solves problems. If you have just had a serious argument with your mother you will no doubt be upset and searching for answers. But I can assure you that these answers won’t come from from thinking through the argument again and again in your head. This gets you no where.

Next time you are worried about a problem family member or have just had an argument with them just let it go. Once they have left just relax with a cup of tea and maybe some television and just let it go. Don’t play the scenario out in your head. Don’t try to think of a solution. Just let it go. Most of the time you will find that the issue resolves itself in time and this time you won’t have wasted a lot of energy worrying about it.

Remember, they are family
Finally I think it is important to remember that this problem family member is still a part of your family. It is not some stranger on the street trying to steal your wallet. It is not your self-loving boss at work who thinks ruining your day is hilarious. It is your family. Give them the time, patience and respect that they deserve.

Does anyone here have a problem family member?

26 thoughts on “How to Deal With Problem Family Members Without Losing Your Mind

  1. Nice post. A tip I’ve used with the overbearing family member types is to not empower them. Often times we give people power over ourselves, the power to choose how our wedding will go, or what college we want to choose, or who we want to date. Its worked really well for me to basically say, you don’t have power over this situation, its my choice. I did this calmly and not in the middle of an argument. Now, I’m not in the middle of family drama, and I’m known as the family member that “does his own thing” but I don’t have the trouble with the “key players” that my siblings or cousins have. Getting those “gossiping” phone calls doesn’t happen, and I’m often the last to know about things that go down, but I think its well worth it for myself not to have a mother-in-law that’s still attempting to run my life πŸ™‚


  2. Interesting Mickey.

    I imagine it would be harder to do with some people than it is with others. For example, a lot of people have “father issues” which makes it hard not to be overpowered by his opinion.

    I like it. Good tip!

    Love your comments mate, keep them up!


  3. With all due respect, these suggestions don’t always work [though you didn’t say that they did]. After 20-30 years, patience wears thin. One can’t separate the person from the behavior when the two are the same 24/7. And saying “don’t think about it too much” is like saying “hold your breath for several days” while you are visiting the offending people.

    People are responsible for their own actions, and being “family” doesn’t excuse them from unacceptable behavior. They can either behave properly or go away.

  4. I have to agree with Timothy’s post. He’s absolutely right – sometimes you can’t separate the behavior from the person; the two are simply one, and the behavior is merely the activity of a person who knows better, but continually behaves badly anyway. While the old adage, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family,” may be true, I would add that you can choose not to be a victim of your family. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do all you can to understand them and even forgive them, but no one should volunteer for abuse.

  5. i have a problem Mother in Law. I wont say she is bad..but her behaviour is very bad towards me. She wont say bad things..i dont have proof foranyone but the way she behaves, unspokenly is tortuing me…she pushes me too much which goes completely against my personality. i have a strong personality, which doesnt like to be run by anyone…by ego flares up at such situtations and i lose my patience. I cant say anything to her coz then there is terrible blasting arguements at home target at me with my husband defending me….and everyone else defending her.
    my relationship with my husband is also going bad coz he doesnt know what to do..i dont know what to do…i have just gotten married and there is no happiness or peace at home….

  6. marry her son!!
    maybe i am not the types she wanted…we r clashing personalities…both want to run things our own way…both ways r right…she wants things done instantly and would repeat it 4 times within 5 minutes…if some guest comes and wants something she wants me to drop all work and attend to that person…this infuriates me and i become quiet, she is a citical worrier and worries about sun, moon, stars, and everything under it…
    i wont say to anyone she needs treatment to calm her nerves…dad in law and sons can answer her back but i cant coz of my position..i am DIL…i am asked to control my ego and be patient by all friends, husband but at that point it isnt possible…this time she stayed a month and last few days have been extremely difficult…

  7. Yeah that sounds difficult.

    Have you tried going out with her alone for a coffee and explaining your situation?

    Perhaps she doesn’t realize how much she is upsetting you?

  8. over the time i have realised she lacks the maturity to understand all this…i tried to confide in her once , but i was made a huge issue and heated arguements followed between her and my husband…i wont go that way again…as i told u i have no proof , how can i narrate her behaviour?i can only narrate what she said and she says nothing wrong most of the time.
    i now want to learn and be at peace with myself so all this doesnt affect me..whatever lack of peace is there outside, i want to make up for it.

  9. Shivani that sounds quite difficult. I really do not know what to advise. I can relate from my own experience that the only thing that seems to make a difference is kindness.

    There was a great Buddhist master who once said that nothing good will ever come of harsh words. I think he might be right.

    I hope something good happens soon for this situation. I know it can be a big strain on the family unit.

    Stay patient and stay happy.

    Good luck!


  10. received this piece of advice from a friend…
    “the best bet is to be over nice and receptive. it will mess with her head as to why her tantrums arent working…try it..its damn difficult and very easy said, but what other option do u think u have,…not many right..
    so lets give her a hard time. let her act the way she wants. u be ur own lively and peaceful self.”

  11. I have a brother who attacked me physicially 6 years ago. I was 30 and he was 28. For no reason. Since then I’ve been weird around him. I cannot stand him. He’s fake. He belittles our parents. He treats others with no respect (and me, obviously). He held me in the air by my throat and told me he hated me and wanted me to die.

    Since then I’ve had a son. He’s ignoring us totally now.

    Why does it bother me so?

  12. BL I imagine it bothers you so much because he is your brother. For some reason family members affect us so much more than other people.

    I really don’t know what advice to offer you other than to try and be compassionate. Remember that you brother is suffering and probably regrets acting the way he did. Also, have compassion for yourself – it is okay to feel bad about this and don’t expect it to get better right away.

    Try reaching out to your brother gently and gradually. Maybe a phone call or an email just to check in and say that you miss him. Time often heals these wounds.

    Good luck.


  13. I have a big issue with my mum lately , it even end up with me being in hospital with a breakdown. I got married since 10 years now, live abroad but my mum and mother-in-;aw live the same coty. My mother in-law is far from being an angel but we keep our distances and respect me and her, but the problem is with my family, each time I call mum she has to bring my mother in-law in the subject if not the first subject, of course a mean way, critisising and all. Finaly I had enough of that subject, waisitng my calls money and psychics on that silly and somehow hurting issue (she is still the granny of my kids isnt she) I said through my sister to tell my mum to stop it , I dont care a bit about what she would tell me and enough is enough. The result was alarming. I have been attacked by phone and emails by all my sisters accusing me of how could I , defend her , she is not worth it. I treid to explain that thats was not my intention and they are missing the whole point. but it got worst they sent me an email chasing me from my sister wedding which will take place next month and I bought the tickets already. their point is if I prefer my inlwas I shoudl go to them instead. I was in a terrible shock and still is and I intend never to see them all my life again. they are so unfair and not worth what I did all my life with them. Iam so sad and heart broken and coufused.

  14. Thank you for this post, I will really try to separate my brother from his behavior. The problem I am having, is that he must control everything and everyone around him. He doesn’t trust that we can make our own decisions, and he feels that he can do or say no wrong. It is acceptable for him to ask for help when it is of high inconvenience, ( I’m sleeping, at work, sick,) but if anyone asks him to help we are useless with out him. A small example: when I take mom grocery shopping, she asks him to help carry all the bags inside.(He doesn’t live with her, but he eats all his meals there and stays there during the day.) He refuses to help stating, “my sister can do it.” Well my mom asked him to go to the storage unit to pull something out of it for her. So he went and did that, ( he is the only one with the code,) but when he got them here, he called my fiance to carry them in for him (fiance and I live next door.) I answered the phone and told him that he was on his way to work, but that made my brother angry and he accused my fiance of being selfish. The time I did try to sit down with him, and show him how this is affecting my attitude and relationship with him, it turned into a shouting match. (And also turned into me being very immature and throwing cupcakes at him from across the room.)He is my brother and I love him, but I can not spend more than minutes with him. Honestly… the way things are going, I might end up loving him less and less. THIS is what scares me. He can be so hurtful. He says its all in joking fun, and when we tell him how it hurts, he says we need to lighten up. I’m sorry, but telling my mother that she is fat and ugly, is NOT a laughing matter. I could keep going on and on about this and the things that really really upset me. I think I have listed enough however lol.

  15. i am going to an argumen with my husband because he is to hard on our son he is just 3 years old and he wants my son to know everything allready , and be a man at this age do you think is right ?

  16. my husband is to hard on my kid hi is just 3 years old , and my husband wants him to be a man allready and do things he is not supost to do yet and we are arguing about it allways what shoul i do

  17. The only emotion in life I am capable of feeling is Anger or not at all so arguments I always lose. πŸ™

    I have some sort of opposite curse where people will always respond opposite of my true intention so I am trying to deal with people as little as possible by copping out when I do realize I am getting angry.

    It’s best to just let the other person rant as defending myself is useles.

    No good comes out of humanity though their are exceptions but that is very rare. πŸ™

    I cannot wait till earth closes up shop.

  18. Very nice article and well written
    Even though I try minding my business and interacting less with my family, they would notice and chase me with anger and fights
    I don’t know how I’ll end up living with them because I don’t trust them. They’re sometimes unfair and not straightforward with me.
    They even made me dislike the idea of getting having buddies to share with which is turning me to less empathetic person. Do I even have to mention I’m hurt?
    But there should be an outlet in this. Maybe I need to explore more

  19. Hi, my pa I Love him so. But he can show behavior obnoxious, loud
    , and offensive. Sometimes I think he has a screw loose. He forcibly put hands on my mom. I snapped and charged at him like a brown bear. He shouldn’t be laying no type of foul hand on her whatsoever. Now we just want to forget about it but I can’t let it go. I’m sure time will mend.

  20. Looking for prayers. Dealing with abusive, angry, controlling, violent, misogynistic brother in his 40’s who gets worse by the day. Lives across the street from me which makes things difficult. Controls my parents and refuses to come to family gatherings if certain family/individuals he doesn’t like (aka my sisters son/my bf of 8 years) are present. Parents are stuck between a rock & a hard place – and they have decided they’d rather have their only son there vs. grandson, daughter’s boyfriend… I don’t know what to do. Very sad & depressed… want to move away but don’t want to leave my aging parents who also live next door…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Prove that you're human *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.