Here are some of the most common ‘types’ of tricky relatives – and how to deal with them before your next family gathering implodes. Essential reading before the festive season!
1. The Loudmouth
Every family has an opinionated loudmouth who likes to stir the pot – be it touching on red-button topics (‘Got a boyfriend yet, Emily?’), or revealing family secrets (like the fact that Cousin Hannah recently left her husband for another woman). You don’t have to engage, says psychologist Jacqui Manning, but if the Loudmouth is upsetting other family members, jump in and swiftly change the subject.
“Saying ‘Kate! I’ve been dying to ask how your new business is going’ can divert the flow,” she suggests. “In the case of gossip, say something like, ‘Tim, that’s not common knowledge and I know Hannah wouldn’t like us discussing her situation, so let’s move on please’.”
2. The Radical One
Radical family members are easy to spot; they’re the ones who show a sudden interest in extreme politics, a religion you feel is positively cult-like, or the anti-vaxer’s movement. Manning says first and foremost, you need to remember that you're a) not going to convert your family to your way of thinking and b) the family party isn’t the time to try.
“Robust debates are fine, but if you sense it’s turning nasty, head things off at the pass by announcing a kids’ performance, or by saying calmly, ‘Let’s agree to disagree – who’s for Monopoly?’ If you’ve got a situation where some family members are anti-vaxers and others have a newborn, you might need to speak to both and suggest separate gatherings,” she says. “It’s not ideal, but it’s not forever – and it may help preserve the peace.”
3. The Sarcastic One
While sarcastic family members can be amusing, if you’re the target, their comments can feel downright mean sometimes. A sincere response can often throw a sarcastic person off their game, but there are other strategies too, says Manning.
“You can try and let sarcasm flow over you without getting ruffled, but if you’re finding it hurtful, choose a quiet moment to say something like, ‘Those comments of yours upset me. Any chance you could try and phrase things a different way?’ That way, your family member will hopefully think twice before they speak.
4. The Negative One
Negativity can manifest in a variety of ways – from being hypercritical to constantly blaming and complaining. Even if you don’t see the person a lot, their energy can be toxic and a downer when you do, says Manning.
“How to cope? As much as possible I’d try and keep it light – for example: ‘Save that for the complaints department, grandpa, I believe they re-open in the new year’, pick a seat far away from cranky old Aunt Miriam, or take regular time outs. You're not going to change their nature, and you should try and preserve your own energy so you can still enjoy the family gathering rather than counting the minutes until it’s over!”
5. The Lazy One
Seemingly guilt-free, with an amazing ability to avoid helping whatsoever, a lazybones will never be seen handing around food, cooking or even just bringing a bottle of wine to a gathering (perish the thought). Instead, they’ll turn up, take-take-take, and leave behind a butt-sized indentation in the couch. While infuriating, this is one of those times to practise acceptance and realise you just can’t change people, says Manning.
“You could try getting them involved by giving them a direct request – e.g. ‘Can you please hand around this plate?’, but I wouldn’t waste too much time or energy hoping they’ll reform and become super helpful,’ she says. “That said, I wouldn’t pander to them either; if they're hungry you can let them sort themselves out!’
Have you got a difficult family member? How do you deal with them?