Saturday, April 4, 2015

A to Z Blogging "D is for..."

...Dysfunctional Family Members, Guidelines for Dealing With
From the series "Words Matter"
by Shelly Burke, RN, Author, and Publisher of the Nebraska Family Times newspaper

Most families have some sort of dysfunction; some families put the “fun” into dysfunction, while others put the “funk” into dysfunction! Some people (and the situations that arise because of their dysfunction) are amusing, some are annoying, and some are harmful to other family members. 

Consider one of the pillars of the Christian faith, Abraham. He lied several times that his wife was actually his sister. When his wife Sarah could not have a baby, she encouraged Abraham to have a baby with her servant, Hagar. Later Isaac fathered sons Esau and Jacob. Rebekah, Isaac's wife, favored Jacob, and encouraged him to lie so he would receive the birthright that belonged to Esau. There are many examples of family dysfunction in the Bible. The lesson is that dysfunctional families have been around literally since God created us; Adam blamed Eve for the first sin and Eve blamed the serpent. Adam and Eve's sons didn't get along and ultimately Cain killed his brother Abel. Despite their dysfunction and ours, God loves and forgives. (These narratives are found in Genesis 4, 20-22,   25-27

Before you approach a family member about his or her actions and behaviors, ask yourself if the potential upheaval that confronting the issue is worth it. This depends on many factors. Does this member of the family live far away or close to you? Do you see him often or rarely? Do positive character traits outweigh the negative? Is the person’s behavior merely annoying, or truly destructive to one or more family members? Does the family allow the behaviors to continue, perpetuating the hurt? Even family members should not be permitted to be involved in your life to the extent or in a manner of causing damage to another’s physical and/or emotional health. 

If you see the problem-causing person frequently, and the behavior
occurs often, or is very hurtful to other family members, you may feel you have to take action to protect your family. Do not hesitate to stand up for yourself, your family or other extended family members, or your beliefs. Future negative memories are not worth ‘keeping the peace.’ 

On the other hand, if the behavior is more irritating than hurtful, or if you rarely see the person, or if his or her positive characteristics that outweigh the negative, it may be better to tolerate it during the infrequent times you are together.  You can do this with ‘superficial friendliness‘--greet the person politely, make a few minutes of small talk, as required, and then manage to keep your distance from the person.   

General Guidelines for Dealing with Dysfunctional Family Members

What to Say

  • Pray about talking with a family member about unacceptable behaviors, or resolving past misunderstandings, before you get together for an event. 
  • “Uncle Jim, I know you love to tell jokes, but some are really off-color, and our kids are getting old enough to understand and repeat them. Could you please keep it G-rated at our Thanksgiving dinner next week? We would really appreciate it.”
  • “My children and the other little ones at family dinners get very upset when you tease them about their hair color or being overweight. I know you don’t mean to hurt their feelings, but you do with those comments. This year at the reunion, could you please not do that? The kids would love for you to ask them how their softball team is doing, or about our vacation. Thank you for understanding!”
  • “What happened between us was a long time ago. Can we start with a clean slate at the family get-together next month?”
  • “I want to apologize for my part in our misunderstanding last year. I would like to try to repair our friendship and hope we can start at the family dinner next week.” 
If old issues or disagreements come up during an event, try these replies:
  • “Let’s just not talk about that, but celebrate the wedding. That‘s what we‘re here for.” 
  • “Let’s enjoy being together and not talk about old hurts now.”
  • “I’m sorry you’re still angry about what happened, but I cannot change it. I just want to get along for the sake of our parents and kids.”

What Not to Say (even when you're tempted to!):

  • “You’re such a jerk!”
  • “You’ve been this way since we were kids!”
  • “You always act this way.” 
  • “Mom and dad always let you get away with everything. That’s why you are like this.”
  • “It’s all your fault that our family is like this.”
  • “I still can’t believe you did that to me 20 years ago . . . “

What to Do:

  • Pray for guidance about what to say and do, and for patience, kindness, and understanding in dealing with the issue.  
  • Tell the truth with love and kindness.    
  • Plan ahead for what you’ll do and say if certain situations occur; you might try to diffuse an argument, separate people who are arguing, step away from someone who is harassing you, etc. 
  • Be proactive; enlist other family members to either help resolve disputes or separate trouble-makers if disputes start at a get-together.  

Don’t . . . 

  • . . . fall into old patterns with family members. 
  • . . . have unrealistic expectations of family members changing or getting along, even if you‘ve talked with the people involved and the conflicts seem to be resolved.
  • . . . be afraid to make a scene if necessary, if someone is being hurt physically or emotionally.
What's your best hint for dealing with a difficult family member?

This post is an excerpt from “What Should I Say? The Right (and Wrong!) Words and Deeds for Life’s Sticky, Tricky Uncomfortable Situations” 
by Shelly Burke, RN. 
Coming soon! Download “What Should I Say” and be prepared for any of life’s sticky, tricky uncomfortable situations!

The mission of the “Nebraska Family Times” is to “inspire, encourage and motivate you on your Christian walk.” To receive local, state and national news from a Christian point of view, as well as devotions, Bible Study and articles about all aspects of Christian life, in your mailbox every month, subscribe for only $20 for 12 issues! Click “Subscribe” on the sidebar or send your address and payment to Nebraska Family Times, 209 27th St. Apt. #13, Columbus, NE 68601.

I am also taking the Blogging A to Z Challenge at 


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for letting me know; I pray every day that God will use my words to bless others so I appreciate hearing from you.

  2. They say "Weird is relative...and all my relatives are weird!"

    You accept who they are because they are family.

    Tim Brannan, The Other Side Blog
    2015 A to Z of Vampires

  3. Thanks for commenting! Yes, of course, we accept who they are, even if we don't like their actions.


Thank you for your comments!