Whether you live with them, visit them every once in a while, or if you barely talk a few times per year, rude or inconsiderate family members can be hard to manage. Especially if they never seem to listen when you respond, even when you keep the conversation as calm and non-confrontational as you can!
Still, there are plenty of ways to defuse tough conversations and shut down rude behavior. Though this person may be family, that doesn’t mean you need to let them walk all over you.
Set proper boundaries with more obviously rude or aggressive family members.
This one will be much easier with non-immediate members of your family—for instance, an aunt or uncle, or people you only see at holidays or family reunions. People who are really obvious about being rude can be put in their place much more easily, but of course wait for the proper setting to set these boundaries.
If the person seems more or less likely to get mad based on if people are around, wait for that time for more or less company to approach them. Possibly bring a sibling or parent with you, if that makes you more comfortable.
And then set the boundary the way that you choose to. Direct is a great option, especially for someone who likes to communicate passive aggressively.
Say something like, “I know you may not mean to upset me, but I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t comment on (blank),” and fill in the blank with what they comment or tease you about. Be prepared if that doesn’t work, though, and have a backup plan to defuse an argument or be able to avoid them in the future.
If a family member says something rude to you, act like they said a joke, especially if it’s a more personal insult.
This might not be the greatest option for a parent or family member you live with, because this could make the person angry, and most of the time you won’t want to get grounded if you live with that parent! But it can work well in social settings with less close family members.
You’ll want to think about the joke or rebuttal ahead of time, even rehearsing with a friend or writing out a script to memorize so you don’t stumble over your words. Asking for help from others, either by explaining the situation or posing it as a hypothetical, can help you come up with creative comebacks.
For instance, if a family member makes a rude comment on your weight, you could literally laugh it off and walk away. You could also say “thanks! I’ve been eating a jar of protein powder for breakfast! I’m so glad it’s paying off!” and take it as a compliment. These are just a few examples, so feel free to mess around and come up with funny and clever responses so you won’t feel cowed by their insults.
Depending on the person, “kill them with kindness” can work really well!
These next two tops can work out well for close family members like parents or siblings who you live with. They’re less direct and more aimed at defusing a situation in a less obvious way.
It may not work for every situation, but it can be especially useful for sucking up for a family member and making yourself less of a target for insults.
If a family member is rude to you about something like chores or your appearance, a simple smile and an “I’ll fix it” might just placate them. Sucking up in a sort of obvious way may not seem obvious to you or them, but sometimes it works—especially if that person has a bit of an ego.
No need to grovel or act like they’re God’s gift, but extending a little extra kindness and cooperation can soothe a grumpy family member on a bad day. This is variable by situation, of course—don’t try to act overly nice, especially if you think that will irritate them (unless that’s your goal).
Ignore a rude remark and completely change the subject, or start talking to someone else like you didn’t hear it.
Again, always think of your own situation before you try out any of these tips, because this one could make a person pretty mad. Depending on the person, this could work well, especially for someone like a bothersome sibling or a parent who only pays half-attention.
Pretending you didn’t hear a rude or upsetting comment and walking away is a perfectly acceptable reaction, especially if you can reasonably say you really didn’t hear. If your family member doesn’t get any kind of reaction out of you, they may just give up.
Pretending you didn’t hear and changing the subject suddenly can also work very well, depending on the situation. Distract that family member from what they’d said originally by asking about something unrelated, like the day’s schedule, one of the person’s interests or something about them, or even the weather.
There’s a chance they’ll forget what they said, even if they were irritated, and instead they’ll have a conversation about what you brought up. Exercise your own judgement about this one.
If you don’t want to or can’t speak up for yourself, ask a trusted friend or family member for help.
For problems with distant relatives or family members that don’t live with you, you can ask for backup from an immediate family member or a close friend to confront them. If you don’t want to do it alone, have them come along. If you don’t want to even talk to that family member, ask if they could be your proxy to deliver a letter, text, or message.
For problems with an immediate family member, think of who would be most helpful to you. Reversing the order and asking for help from a family member who isn’t immediate could work, or a parent if it’s a sibling, or a sibling if it’s a parent. It’s up to you who to ask for help and how to ask for it, but if you don’t want to directly confront this difficult person, backup is a must.
Hopefully this was helpful for learning ways to deal with rude family members. Good luck out there!