Research shows that supportive relationships are good for our mental and physical health. However, dealing with difficult people and maintaining ongoing negative relationships is actually detrimental to our health. It’s a good idea to diminish or eliminate relationships that are filled with conflict. But what do you do if the person in question is a family member, co-worker, or someone you otherwise can’t easily eliminate from your life?
The following are tips for dealing with difficult people who are in your life, for better or for worse:

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Ongoing

Here’s How:

  1. Keep Conversations Neutral Avoid discussing divisive and personal issues, like religion and politics, or other issues that tend to cause conflict. If the other person tries to engage you in a discussion that will probably become an argument, change the subject or leave the room.
  2. Accept The Reality of Who They Are In dealing with difficult people, don’t try to change the other person; you will only get into a power struggle, cause defensiveness, invite criticism, or otherwise make things worse. It also makes you a more difficult person to deal with.
  3. Know What’s Under Your Control Change your response to the other person; this is all you have the power to change. For example, don’t feel you need to accept abusive behavior. You can use assertive communication to draw boundaries when the other person chooses to treat you in an unacceptable way.
  4. Create Healthier Patterns Remember that most relationship difficulties are due to a dynamic between two people rather than one person being unilaterally “bad.” Chances are good that you’re repeating the same patterns of interaction over and over; changing your response could get you out of this rut, and responding in a healthy way can improve your chances of a healthier pattern forming. Here’s a list of things to avoid in dealing with conflict. Do you do any of them? Also, here are some healthy communication skills to remember.
  5. See The Best In People Try to look for the positive aspects of others, especially when dealing with family, and focus on them. (Developing your optimism and reframing skills can help here!) The other person will feel more appreciated, and you will likely enjoy your time together more.
  6. Remember Who You’re Dealing With Seeing the best in someone is important; however, don’t pretend the other person’s negative traits don’t exist. Don’t tell your secrets to a gossip, rely on a flake, or look for affection from someone who isn’t able to give it. This is part of accepting them for who they are.
  7. Get Support Where You Can Find It Get your needs met from others who are able to meet your needs. Tell your secrets to a trustworthy friend who’s a good listener, or process your feelings through journaling, for example. Rely on people who have proven themselves to be trustworthy and supportive, or find a good therapist if you need one. This will help you and the other person by taking pressure off the relationship and removing a source of conflict.
  8. Let Go Or Get Space If You Need It Know when it’s time to distance yourself, and do so. If the other person can’t be around you without antagonizing you, minimizing contact may be key. If they’re continually abusive, it’s best to cut ties and let them know why. Explain what needs to happen if there ever is to be a relationship, and let it go. (If the offending party is a boss or co-worker, you may consider switching jobs.)


  • Try not to place blame on yourself or the other person for the negative interactions. It may just be a case of your two personalities fitting poorly.
  • Remember that you don’t have to be close with everyone; just being polite goes a long way toward getting along and appropriately dealing with difficult people.
  • Work to maintain a sense of humor — difficulties will roll off your back much more easily. Shows like “Modern Family” and books like David Sedaris’ Naked can help you see the humor in dealing with difficult people.
  • Be sure to cultivate other more positive relationships in your life to offset the negativity of dealing with difficult people.
I really hope this helps many of you that are having such a hard time dealing with someone that just can’t “disappear.” It’s important to think of yourself and the effects it has on your health.
Be well.

3 Comments on Dealing with Difficult People & Avoiding Conflict

  1. Thanks a million. The last thing i want it for my husband to be torn between me and his mom. I would never want our children to think negatively about their grandmother. The sad part is that she verbally abuses and accuses both myself and even my husband in front of the kids. Even though they run off scared, they know whats going on. Yesterday my daughter (going to be 10 this week) told her cousin (my sister-in-laws daughter), “Dadi (grandma) was swearing at Mama yesterday.” What am i supposed to do about that??? Sister-in-law called up and tattled on my daughter… the poor thing got in trouble for that. I’m sure mom-in-law must be thinking i ‘fed’ that to the kids that she is a monster-of-sorts…. thats not me though… why would i do such a thing? Sorry about this… now it seems that i’m venting… thanks for listening though. 🙂

  2. Hello Anon,
    I’m so sorry that you have to go through this with someone who should be a supportive & loving part of your family. It’s very upsetting to hear that she is making up horrible stories about you in her head & believing them.

    Unfortunately, this is very common from what I’ve seen & read. I’m not a psychologist, but from all info gathered from articles written by licensed pyschologist’s, it’s not uncommon for some mother-in-law’s to feel some sort of resentment or hostility towards their daughter-in-law.
    She clearly has some personal issues of her own to act that way.

    What I can tell you is that you cannot be responsible for the happiness of another adult.

    If your mother-in-law is set on disliking you, no amount of good deeds will change her opinion. Don’t kill yourself trying to get into her good graces, but by no means should you go out of your way to make life more difficult for her or your husband. Some people find that cutting the person out of their life is better but they also find it hurts their marriage. There no right or wrong answer; only what’s right for you and your husband. That’s a decision you need to make and find a way to tell your husband in a way he can understand. Try writing down what you’re going to say and think about how you would feel if the shoe was on the other foot.

    Your husband has a situation on his hands to say the least. He might be feeling like he’s the middleman in a war between the two women he loves the most. Instead, he might want to consider taking the role of Commander. The two of you need to discuss the situation, but again, you need to make sure you don’t make him feel like his mom is a “momster” but you need to be clear how it makes you feel. He needs to then figure out a way to keep his marriage (the most important relationship at this point in his life) and his family on steady ground. You don’t have to be best friends or even really like one another, but boundaries need to be set.

    If your husband won’t set boundaries after conversations, then you need to tell him what your plan of action will be to keep yourself sane. Yes you are a couple, but you still need to look out for your well-being.

    Be realistic as to what your goals and expectations will be in the relationship between yourself and your mother-in-law, be honest with husband but do your best not to villify her – remember, she is your husband’s mother and that’s an important relationship.

    Good luck and stay strong.
    Please keep me posted on how everything works out for you.

  3. Interesting to see this article today. Thanks Carol. What do you have to say about mother-in-laws? Mine has been giving me a hard time these days. Hubby, the kids and myself were away for the weekend and as soon as we got back, the mominlaw seemed to be ready to pick a fight. I’ve made it a rule never to argue or talk back but yesterday, after ten long years of being married… i lost it. Especially after she called me names, told me that i was no good and didnt know how to raise my kids and above that accused me of taking her precious son away from her!!! If that was my motive, why would have i moved back here and left my home in Canada?!?!?! Anyhow… we live in a joint family system and things are NOT working. She seems to have made up these make believe stories against me and really believes them to be true, the sad part is that i have no idea what she is refering to when she tells people all about them and accuses me. Anyhow, saw the relevancy… thought i’d share. 🙂

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