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Tips for Navigating Relationships With Difficult Immediate Family Members

Michelle is a trained teacher in Singapore and manages relationships with students and their families every day.

Problems in your family tree? Here's how to help.

Problems in your family tree? Here's how to help.

Do you have close family members that you dread interacting with because they grate on your esteem or lifestyle? Is it difficult to relate to them because you have to do so almost daily? Navigating close family relationships (that are thorny at best) can be heartbreaking and angsty. That said, it can be done with some savvy, tact, and patience.

A big family can be an especially difficult thing to navigate.

A big family can be an especially difficult thing to navigate.

Why Close Family Relationships Are Difficult to Navigate

Ironically, relationships become more difficult to manage the more intimate one gets with another party. Here's why it can be a challenge to interact with someone we are close to.

Being Newlyweds

Living with another person is a sometimes onerous challenge, even if they are the love of your life. A person's habits are hard to break and difficult for another party to get accustomed to, no matter how dear they are. Then, there is the question of having different perspectives. Everyone's views on topics vary, so coming to terms with each other's is never a simple task.

Birth of Children

A new addition to the family is a top source of conflict. Constraints abound, including those of space, time, schedules, and the fact that a baby needs his milk or a diaper change at odd times of the night. The tussle over who should take up such chores is a never-ending story

A Child Going to School

Conflict brews yet again when a child in the family reaches school-going age. The never-ending scheduling tug-of-war can leave his parents stressed and completely frazzled. This, on top of already pressuring work schedules, can create faultlines in family relationships.


Youth means a challenging few years for both a parent and teen. Raging hormones aside, teens have the daunting task of making sense of the ever-changing world around them, a huge part of which are friendships, family and academics. No wonder the tightrope that links both parents and children.

Separation or Divorce

This is self-explanatory. Navigating relationships between estranged family members always causes some stress-induced hair loss.

Moving to a New House or Country

Drastic changes like this one are a source of heated words and exchanges. Spouses and children may see having to make a shift for the sake of a family member's work or school needs as a forced sacrifice and selfishness on the part of the person being catered to.

Travelling Long Distances to Work

Having to commute can be a source of family tension owing, again, to changes in schedules and necessary sacrifices which have to be made.

Change in Financial Circumstances

Money is often the root of family tugs-of-war. How much should we spend on groceries? Who should pay for dinner at the expensive restaurant today? Who is entitled to the largest share of dad's inheritance? If you find these questions familiar, you may have been embroiled in financial tussles with family members.

Understanding your differences can be a great place to start.

Understanding your differences can be a great place to start.

10 Tips for Navigating Relationships with DIfficult Family members

If you are a human being, chances are that you've encountered or are experiencing love-hate (or all hate) relationships with family members. The ones closest to us are sometimes the ones who are the most trying to relate to.

Nonetheless, they are part of life's package. How do we communicate with a family member who is set on teaching the definition of anarchy?

1. Be Aware of Your Feelings

Take steps to stay aware of your emotions and manage them. Visits with angsty family members can be exhausting, so don't be afraid to cut visits short if you have to.

2. Avoid Hot Button Topics

If you know that Aunt Beth flies off the handle when you delve into the topic of weight (Aunt Beth being quite weighty), don't discuss it. Your peace of mind is more important than trying to convince her to eat less.

3. Avoid Being Mr., Ms or Mrs FIxit

This is a situation in which being a helpful person may worsen an already disastrous situation. Don't attempt to interfere when family members quarrel or you may be ostracised for being on the wrong side of an argument.

4. Don't Be a People Pleaser

Social pressure has the blame for people-pleasing. It can be very tempting to give in to the demands of family members because we are in long-term or perpetual relationships with them. It always seems as though doing what they demand is the only way to keep the peace.

That said, it is necessary to maintain boundaries for your peace of mind. Let aberrant family members know where you draw the line.

5. GIve Yourself Permission to Exit

One must always cherish family ties, but not to the extent of enduring verbal or even physical abuse. Give yourself permission to leave when family members become abusive.

6. Don’t Share Information That Family Members Can Use Against You

Unfortunately, family members know which buttons of yours to push because of their close association with you. Be aware of what and how much information you share with them so that they cannot use it against you.

7. Use the Word "I" When Discussing Feelings

Unfortunately, it is impossible to avoid difficult people altogether, especially if they are family members. That said, you can manage situations. When holding a conversation with a difficult person, use "I" statements. It shatters any defensive

countenances and allows you to look after yourself at the same time.

8. Set Limits

Set limits when having difficult conversations. People will tend to cross boundaries when they want to reinforce their viewpoints, especially family members who know you well enough to push your hot buttons.

9. Suggest a Break

Have breaks in the conversation when it gets difficult. Difficult family members are overwhelming, so give yourself permission to take some time off when speaking with them. It allows you to cool off and avoid hot topics.

10. Ask What They Think Was Said

Ask those involved in conversations to reinforce your statements and views. This prevents or clears any misunderstandings.

Good Luck

Family members are the closest to us, yet can be the most difficult to relate to. Bear a few tips in mind to make managing relationships with them that much easier.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Michelle Liew