Because you can’t choose your family members, there will inevitably be a couple of them who know how to get under your skin. Fortunately, there are a few techniques you can employ to remain diplomatic even during a difficult conversation. Continue reading to learn how to remain calm, cool, and collected when dealing with difficult family members.
1. Stay calm, even if your relatives are getting excited.
Take a deep breath if you notice yourself becoming agitated. Even if it’s difficult, try not to let your emotions take over. Count to ten while taking deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
The calmer you are, the better you will be able to deal with a difficult family member who is attempting to agitate you.
If you are unable to remain calm, it may be time to leave the situation. Step outside or into another room to collect your thoughts and yourself.
2. Be assertive about your wants and needs.
Maintain your confidence and assertiveness in your communication. You don’t have to be mean or raise your voice, but you shouldn’t let anyone talk over you or dismiss you. Make it clear that you want to be heard and not walked all over.
Although it can be difficult to stand your ground with family (especially with relatives who are older than you), it is a critical component of feeling as if your voice is being heard.
Try something like, “I’m only here to discuss Grandpa’s will, and I don’t want to talk about anything else right now.” Please wait until I’m finished speaking before asking any questions.”
3. Set clear boundaries.
Don’t let anyone yell at you or talk down to you. If they press you, say something like, “I’m not going to let you talk to me like that.” Please tone down your voice.” If they continue to test your limits, it might be best to end the conversation and try again another day.
You could also say something like, “I want to talk to you, but I can’t if you keep talking to me like that.”
Other boundaries you might want to establish include a timeframe for communication (“Only call me during the day, not late at night when I’m trying to sleep”) and how long you’ll be in town (“I only took one week off of work, and I can’t stay any longer”).
4. Stick to neutral topics.
Politics and religion have a way of agitating people. If your family members bring it up, try not to get involved. Change the subject to something less likely to spark a fight, such as the weather, sports, or non-controversial current events.
If one of your relatives continues to press you to discuss something you don’t want to talk about, simply say, “That’s not what I’m here to talk about today,” and move on.
5. Let the other person be right.
Even if you don’t agree with everything, there are some things you can let go of. Rather than arguing about everything your family says, try to pick your battles and occasionally let your family members feel like they’ve “won.” You don’t have to do this all the time (and especially not for important things), but if it’s not that important, just let it go.
For example, a family member may attempt to engage you in a political debate. It’s probably not worth getting into if you and your partner have opposing viewpoints. Allow them to believe they are correct so that you can move on to more productive topics of conversation.
“Okay, I hear what you’re saying,” you say. I’m not interested in debating you right now. Let’s get this party started.”
6. Focus on the things you can control.
You have control over how you react to other people. While you will never be able to change what others do, you can change how you react for the better. Keep reminding yourself of this fact, especially when things get difficult.
For example, if a family member insults you, you do not have to yell at them. Instead, you can remain calm and simply change the subject, or you can leave the situation entirely.
Alternatively, if a family member attempts to intrude on your privacy, you can respond by establishing firm boundaries. Don’t give in simply because it’s easier or because you want to appease someone.
7. Try not to take things personally.
It is not your fault that you have difficult family members. Although it is tempting to take on that burden, keep in mind that the problem is with them, not with you. You’ll be able to shrug things off if you can separate their actions from yourself.
A person is frequently a collection of their childhood trauma. Consider it this way: your family member isn’t being nasty because something is wrong with your life; they’re being nasty because something is (or was) wrong with theirs.
8. Don’t try to change a difficult person.
You don’t have to like them, but you also can’t change them. A difficult person will not take criticism well, and you may end up exacerbating the situation. Even if you don’t get along with your family members, try to accept them for who they are.
Try to recall the phrase “radical acceptance.” Accepting something you know you can’t change, even if you don’t like or agree with it.
9. Practice self care.
Family problems can be extremely taxing. Make sure you’re getting enough food, water, and sleep to feel well-rested and healthy. To reduce your overall stress levels, spend some time doing something relaxing, such as soaking in a bath or reading a good book. Don’t let your mental and physical health suffer as a result of dealing with your family.
If you’re feeling guilty about taking care of your own needs, try telling yourself, “It’s not selfish to take care of myself.”
It can also be beneficial to speak with someone who is supportive, such as another family member, a minister, or a therapist.
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