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‘Dealing with Relatives’ Category

The Rules of Non-Engagement for Dealing with Relatives

Sunday, December 15th, 2013


When it comes to attending family events, you always have a choice:

1. Go
2. Go and suffer
3. Don’t go

(You’ve already examined these choices in the Pre-Obligation Checklist. See previous posts.)  If you decide to go, and you choose not to suffer, then you have two more choices:

4. Go with a different attitude
5. Go with a different attitude and behavior

To avail yourself of one or both of these two choices, we offer you the Four Rules of Non-Engagement:

1. Decide in Advance
If you wait to make the decision about responding to negative or controlling comments until you’ve begun your visit, events may overtake you. Instead, make a conscious choice before you arrive about the kind of experience you’re going to have when you get there.

But it isn’t enough to make the choice not to have problems with a predictably argumentative relative. You also want to make a conscious choice about what topics to steer clear of, and what you will do if those topics come up. Consider what Carissa told us:

My mother-in-law has strong opinions about everything. Her argumentative nature is so strong that if I responded to the troubling things she said, just for the sake of discussion, I was guaranteed an argument, and more likely an attack, which almost always led to a fight with my husband in the car on the way back home after visiting her! But I now realize that I actually have a say over what ultimately gets discussed, because I can avoid the problematic topics when they come up. If I don’t take the bait, the topic eventually goes away, and usually sooner than later. Now, on the way to her place, before I talk with her, I do a little talking to myself. I tell myself exactly what I’m willing to talk about and what I’m not willing to talk about no matter what, and I stick to it. 

2. Plan for Sore Subjects

Joseane told us:

My husband’s former mother-in-law is a sore subject with my in-laws.  Mention Maggie to either of them and they spin off in anger. Next thing I know, she’s telling the same story for the gazillionth time about how inconsiderate she was, how mean she was, how absolutely awful she was.

For the longest time I felt really bad for her. I used to try and convince her that she should live and let live, that this former problem person in her life is now gone and she should be grateful she doesn’t have to deal with her anymore and let it go, but my efforts never worked and made it worse. Now when she starts talking angrily about Maggie, I just nod my head, wait till she’s done, and then change the subject to anything else! And if she asks me, “What do you think?” I know she isn’t really wanting my opinion, so I say, “Well, you know what’s best for you.” And the funny thing is, when I do that she tells my husband, “I’m crazy about that girl. She is so wise.”

You have other options too. You can speak to their intent instead of getting caught up in the content of what they’re saying. If your relative says, “You should dress up more,” you can say, “Thank you for caring about my appearance.”

If your parent asks you, their adult child, whether you’re brushing your teeth, you can reply, “Thanks for caring about my hygiene.”

By refusing to get caught up in the content of what they’ve said, you have time to breath, gather your wits, and create a cushion of non-engagement around yourself.


3. Keep Your Perspective

You are more resourceful with perspective than without it, and you feel better too! One way to keep your perspective is to find entertainment value in difficult behavior.

Ben told us:

“I find it incredibly amusing when people get weird. Sometimes I even play circus music in the back of my mind. It sort of animates their behavior, turns them into a caricature of themselves, and makes them look to me like a cartoon! Then my biggest challenge is not letting them see how hard I’m laughing inside.”

Mina told us:

“I tell myself that it beats being in a war zone, or any other horrible thing I can imagine.”

4. Use Reminders

Sometimes it’s useful to have a reminder system for your intentions. Garth told us:

Whenever we find ourselves obligated to attend some kind of family function, I’ve developed the habit of reminding myself that “all things will pass.” I get a small red stick-on dot that I put on my watch to mark the time we’ve leaving. It’s a perfect stealth reminder that helps me keep my perspective. As we are walking in the door, I look at the red dot and remind myself of the end point. If things start to heat up, I just grin and think, “All things will pass” again. 

To Summarize:

Rules of Non-Engagement

1. Decide in Advance
2. Plan for Sore Subjects
3. Keep Your Perspective
4. Use Reminders

Dealing with Relatives – The Five Choices

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013


(from Dealing with Relatives, Brinkman & Kirschner, McGraw-Hill)

Everyone has family that is sometimes difficult to deal with. But if you’ve had it with the criticism and rudeness, if you’re fed up with interference, tired of taking orders, unwilling to be taken advantage of, or frustrated with egotism,don’t despair. Remember, you always have a choice. In fact, you have five choices:

1. Suffer and complain.
If you want things to remain the same, and you’re satisfied to be right about what’s wrong while doing nothing about it, this is your best choice. It’s a complete waste of time, but it’s your time to waste!

2. Go away.
If you won’t make the effort to work it out, or you made the effort and got nowhere, you can create the boundary of time and distance to protect your-self from the pain. This a very common choice. In our research we found geography to be the #1 coping strategy.

But before you walk away,consider your other choices..

3. Accept them the way they are.
Even if they never change at all, you can change the way you see them, listen to them, and how you feel around them. A change of attitude can set you free from negative reactions to problem behaviors.

In our interviews we found that when people healed a relationship so it was no longer problematic, attitude was either the prime factor or a supporting factor that allowed people to change their own behavior and have a positive effect on their relative.

4. Love yourself when they’re around.
Overcoming negative and mixed messages from others requires a more loving relationship with yourself. When you give yourself the love and acceptance that you can’t get from them, you stop being needy and change the dynamic of the relationship.

5. Exercise your influence.
Just as some people bring out the best in you, and some people bring out the worst, you have this same ability with others. There is a behavioral balance in relationships, and it can be shifted with intentional behavior. When you shift what you’re doing, your relative will have to shift what he or she is doing too. And suddenly you have options for bringing out the best in relatives . . . even at their worst!

In upcoming posts we will examine some of these behavioral choices to effect others.

Dealing with Relatives – Defusing Triggers

Friday, December 6th, 2013



An association is a trigger like the song or smell that suddenly transports you back through time. When it comes to family both the people and the environment are powerful triggers. This is why you could be a competent adult with good communication skills and then in the presence of immediate family become a babbling nine-year-old again with everyone falling into the reactions and roles of the past.

One of the ways to break those associations, is neutral ground, which means purposely choosing an environment that is different.

In interviewing for the book Dealing with Relatives we met a couple that over Thanksgiving travels with her parents to someplace new and over Christmas travels somewhere new with his parents. Because they are all in a new place they find it easy not to fall into the same old rolls, I.e. The mother cooking for everybody every meal, the father having to watch his football games. Then the mother then getting annoyed at the father because he’s watching football while they have company. Or the mother making her adult son’s bed and then his wife getting pissed off at him for letting his mother do that, etc. etc. In the new environment all of that is swept out of the way and they discover each other in new ways.

But it doesn’t have to be as complex as taking a vacation. One person tells us that she makes sure to spend time with her mother and and father alone. By separating them, it automatically creates a different dynamic.

Another person tells us he likes to visit his parents when his sisters are not there, because if the sisters are present they dominate the conversation and dynamic.

Another person told us that when she visits her parents she likes to go to the Japanese gardens with just her father. First by separating the time from her mother, their dynamic changes and secondly she finds in that serene environment they have deeper conversations. She said:

“It was in the Japanese gardens that my father was once honest with me about a problem he observed in my relationship with my Mom.  He told me how I sometimes got short and irritated with her, and then hypercritical, after which I’d feel angry at myself.  If he would have told me this while were in their house, I suspect I would have had a hard time hearing it.  But the gardens were such a calming environment that I was able to hear his feedback rationally instead of reactively.   Something about the calm of that place allowed me to really hear it from him.”

Yes you can break past associations and discover people in a new way.

Dealing with Relatives – Handling Criticism

Thursday, December 5th, 2013


“Dealing with Criticism”

When being criticized the first thing to always keep in mind is that when people criticize, they are the ones with the problem not you. They have an issue with something and are projecting it on you.

The second thing to do is not engage in the content of the communication. Keep the focus on them, not you. You do this by speaking to “intent” and not “content”. Intent is the purpose behind a communication. Content is the communication itself.

So if someone makes a rude comment about how you look, instead of defending yourself you can just say, “Well I didn’t realize how fashion conscious you were.” You are making a statement about her, not you.

Even better is to project positive intent. That means you act like she has good intentions even if she doesn’t. An example of this would be, “Why thank you for caring about how I look. That is so sweet of you.”

You have now accomplished a two fold purpose. One, if she is out to get you and you can’t be gotten, it messes it up for her. Second you have trapped them into the positive intent. It is unlikely they will say, “No you stupid #^&*# I’m trying to cut you down.” Instead they will not deny your positive projection and will be forced to go along with the positive direction you set.

What if the criticizer is a parent? With parents, projecting positive intent is absolutely, positively the way to go. If they say you are fat, thank them for caring about your health and well being. If they want to know when you are getting married, appreciate them for caring about your relationship happiness.

These kinds of positive projections will melt a parent. Parents in general feel under appreciated by their children. Usually when you positive project on a parent they roll over and start kicking their leg like a dog getting it’s stomach rubbed. They will forget all about what they were criticizing you about and bask in your appreciation. Then you can just change the subject.

Prepare yourself! What positive projections will you say, when they say, what you know they will say. 😉

Dealing with Relatives Tip of the Day

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013


This is one of my favorite story / strategies told to me while doing interviews for the Dealing With Relatives book. It’s about going to a family gathering with the attitude of finding something special.

“Attitude is so important, you have to look for the good. When I was a little girl my dad used to play a game with me. We would go out for long walks, and in order to get me to walk another few minutes with him, he’d say pick a number between 50 and 200. Then we would walk that many steps, stop and look for treasure. And the neat thing was, when we looked, we always found something to treasure. Whether it was a pretty rock, a bug, or a leaf, branch, or flower, there was always something to appreciate as special.

So now when I go to a family gathering, I look for something to treasure, and sure enough, I always find something. It could be a three minute conversation with an uncle, or with a cousin I haven’t talked to before. One time I was chatting with the 24-year-old son of my cousin and his girlfriend, people I didn’t really know at all. They were fascinating people who were cool natural-food types and did interesting things in their lives. We had fun talking for an hour.

And the only reason this conversation happened was that I had decided ahead of time to look for a treasure. I saw people I didn’t know, and I sat down with them to see what treasure was there.”

What’s your special attitude going to be?


Dealing with Relatives Tip of the Day

Monday, December 2nd, 2013


Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting my favorite stories and strategies I’ve heard for dealing successfully with relatives. Here’s the first:

Have a Mantra. There’s a couple I know, who before leaving the house for an event, will look each other in the eyes and simultaneously say, “Just visiting.”

When they arrive, but before they ring the bell they look at each other and say, “ Just visiting.“

During the event if things start getting stressful they just give each other the look and silently say to themselves, “Just visiting.”

A pair of adult sisters use with their mother, “She’s just making conversation.”  That prevents them from getting caught up or taking too seriously their mother’s wild tangents or illogic. Instead they remind themselves, “She’s just making conversation,”  and that gives them permission to not engage, but just simply change the subject.

What’s your mantra?


DEALING WITH RELATIVES – Welcome to this Thanksgiving Relatives Resource Buffet

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Greetings Conscious Communicator,

Here’s some important info about Relatives…



DEALING WITH RELATIVES – Hypnotic Relaxation Audio to De-stress and Defuse Your Triggers with Relatives

Monday, November 25th, 2013


This is a Relaxation / Hypnotic audio that is designed to both de-stress you and diffuse your triggers with Relatives.  ** Watch the important video instructions below. **

It is designed to be listened to with eyes closed, laying down or sifting.  More in the video.



Dr. Rick Brinkman Talks About Dealing with Relatives on AMNW

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Dr. Rick Brinkman, co-author of the international best selling McGraw-Hill book, Dealing With People You Can’t Stand, How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, appears on Portland, Oregon’s AM Northwest to talk about dealing with relatives.

Dealing with Relatives: Rules of Non-Engagement, During stage 1

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

There are three parts to the Rules of Non-Engagement: Before, During and After.   In the last post we looked at how to prepare yourself before the family event. In the next few posts we will look at what you can do in the “during” phase.


– Supporting your energy

Marta told us:

“My mom loves to make cookies and cakes, and I love to eat them. Problem is,all that sugar gives me headaches and makes me cranky.And when I’m cranky, Mom and I have problems. So I’ve told her that the only time I’m going to eat the fun food is at night, so I can be fun for her to be with all day long.”

Juanita told us:

“I take naps in the afternoon, usually when my dad turns on the TV to watch sports. I used to sit around all day hating the sound of the TV and wishing I could be somewhere else, but not anymore! I tell my parents that taking naps is part of my health regime, and they not only accepted the idea, but my mom liked it so much that she does the same during my visits. Dad gets to watch sports in peace, and both Mom and I feel refreshed when dinner time rolls around. It’s been great for everyone.”

– Remove some Stress

If you can relieve a relative of just a little of their stress, your good deed will come back to you as an grateful family member who is easier for you to deal with.

Darren told us:

“My mother gets stressed when things don’t seem to be getting done or she’s worried about something.This has gotten worse over the years as she has aged, because she can’t do as much cleaning as she used to. So we do things for her, and turn clean-up time into a family activity. We might say, “Come on kids, let’s go outside and rake some leaves!” If she expresses wor- ries about finances, I get on the Internet and do some research for informa- tion on refinancing.Anything she expresses worry or concern about is an opportunity for me to lower her stress load.The result is that instead of a stressed-out and worried mother when we visit, I get to enjoy her company.”

Fred writes:

“My dad-in-law is kind of a dud, and being a dud around company drives my mother-in-law crazy. So I try to engage him in things, take him out for a game of golf, invite him to come with me for a run to the store, anything that gets him away from her and gives her a break. She’s a lot happier when we visit now.”

Tune in over the next few days for more and check out the resources at:

Dealing with Relatives: The Rules of Non-Engagement, Before Stage

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

I recently did an interview with Woman’s World about preparing for the holidays, (read “Relatives!”). I reviewed some of the many interviews we conducted when writing the Dealing With Relatives book. Over the next few weeks I will share some of my favorites so you can be prepared.

The first is called “The Rules of Non-Engagement”.  There are three phases, before, during and after. In today’s blog we will look at the “before” phase.


– Prepare yourself

A mantra to maintain perspective:

A good friend of mine, just before ringing the doorbell turns to his wife and says, “Just visiting.”

A couple of sisters prevent being pulled into their Mom’s inane conversations with the mantra, “She’s just making conversation.”

Someone else told me they put a Red dot on watch on the hour they are leaving. To maintain perspective he just has to glance at his watch.

– Seek allies, other family members who are supportive and plan together.

Make contact with other family members with whom you have a good relationship and set up signals to help each other bail from a conversation or distract.

– Mentally practice what you will do with tough conversations or criticism.

Here is my advice.

1. Acknowledge some positive intent.

2. Be clear about your intent

3. Schedule.

i.e.: “I appreciate your openness in sharing the intimate details of your new love, however this might not be the place with the kids. Let’s talk about it later.”


1. Acknowledge positive intent

2. Change the subject

Statement: “Looks like you put on a little weight since last year.”

1. “Thank you for caring about my well being.” (then change subject).

Tune in tomorrow for more and check out the resources at:

Tis the Season to Deal with Relatives

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

I recently was interviewed by Woman’s World magazine on Dealing with Relatives. I believe the article is in the current issue. Here is a link to access a PDF version or simply click on the graphic.

But wait there’s more!!!

In case you haven’t gotten it yet here is a 90 minute audio-seminar I did last year on Dealing with Relatives. It covers Martyrs and Judges and defusing your reactions. And speaking of defusing, while you are at the Relatives web page check out the hypnosis audio. It will defuse your triggers with Relatives from the inside out so they can do what used to drive you crazy and it won’t matter to you anymore. I have gotten great feedback over the year on it’s effectiveness. You’ll find it all at: