Everyone has at least one relative that drives them absolutely crazy! The problem is how to deal with these nutcases without losing your own sanity. This is not easy I speak from experience. If you are in a relationship and it’s your partner’s family this can be extremely complicated, not to mention irritating.
Some of the problems that people can bring to the table are inevitable such as their personal experiences, beliefs and baggage. My advice revolves around a mother in law who won’t butt out. This has created serious turmoil in my marriage and our lives. She refuses to acknowledge that we are adults and we do not need her butting in our lives at every turn. It wouldn’t be so bad if she were just concerned or wanting to help. Unfortunately it’s none of the above. She has a strong urge to control everyone and everything in her path. So I have taken the time to document some examples of how to deal with specific behaviors that create chaos in my life.
My mother in law is very passive aggressive and malicious with her dealings. I do not say this lightly; she will speak kindly to your face and knife you in the back the next minute. I would have to say that the most difficult behavior of hers is the patronizing tone that she constantly uses with me and everyone else. Often, when she is talking she is very condescending and throws in what I call jabs. These are intentional and well thought out comments meant to create discomfort and harm. One way that I have found to stop her in her tracks is to throw a jab right back at her. This usually forces her to realize that she is being rude and not treating me in a respectful manner.
I have tried many other ways of dealing with her by ignoring her or even telling her that she is out of line, none of which work. It is my belief that if I remain silent I am consenting to her treating me poorly. I deserve respect and therefore I should not be forced to pretend that I condone her behavior. I would never call her names or become irate but sometimes she needs to be reminded that she is not my parent and that I am an adult capable of making my own decisions.
Some suggestions for dealing with this type of person are as follows:
Try talking to the person about how they make you feel when they treat you that way. Don’t use accusatory language. Try statements such as “I feel hurt when you talk that way to me, because I am an adult”. Or “I do not like when you tell me how to raise my kids”. It is best not to become aggressive right out of the gate, try kindness first. Maybe the person doesn’t even realize that they are talking to you in that way. If they become aggressive or defensive don’t let it become a power struggle. At that point you have two choices, you can simply say “I didn’t mean to offend you; I just wanted to tell you that it really bothers me when you act that way towards me”. Or you can say “I can understand why you feel like I am being disrespectful but that is how you make me feel at times”. It might also be helpful if the situation becomes escalated to say “I need to cool off and collect my thoughts, we can discuss this at a later time.” These are all methods for trying to save the relationship, not to destroy it.
Try to avoid blaming the other person for all of the problems. Be accountable for your actions, if you were deliberately antagonizing the conflict, admit to that and examine your behaviors. It is much easier to blame others than it is to examine our own selves and issues.
Try mediation for your problem. This can be as simple as locating and hiring a mediator, who is a neutral third party to help you work out the issues. In many cases this is significantly cheaper and less time consuming than counseling. However each situation is unique and your situation may require the in depth time of a professional counselor. It is best to keep in mind that not all problems have ideal solutions. If the person does not want to change, then most likely they are not going to. If that is the case you will most likely not be able to drag them to see a counselor or mediator for that matter.
Worst case when civility fails, decide if you must or want to continue the relationship. Take the time to analyze how this relationship is important to your life or those around you such as your children. It’s not easy to excommunicate yourself from your family without significant factors. Is this relationship toxic to you and those around you? Is the relationship worth saving? If you can honestly say that the relationship is beneficial and non-toxic to those around you then it’s advisable that you try and repair the relationship. There is no written law that states you must get along with your family or maintain a relationship with them. This is of course dependent upon your own beliefs and desires.
Limit your contact with the person if they cannot act civil towards you. Don’t blow your family off because of this difficult person, just limit your personal contact with them. If you don’t want to deal with them, limit the conversation and excuse yourself politely to speak with someone else. This works very well if done in a tactful manner while attending large family functions.
In summary, it’s always best to try and work things out, but if you continually find yourself apologizing for problems that you did not cause, you may want to look at the alternatives.