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Seven Steps to
Dealing With Problem Relatives and Friends

Take off your your boxing gloves. This is not going to be a clean fight!

This page lists Seven Steps for fixing problems with awkward relatives and friends who insist on 'helping' at your wedding. If you've come to this page in error, return to the main page Dealing With Problem Relatives and Friends

Seven seems to be the optimum number of steps for fixing any problem.

Quite mysterious - just because there are Seven steps, those steps are a panacea for success. But in fact there is no mystery - it's all quite common sense:

  1. Believe that...

    ...it only takes an ounce of courage to remove a ton of distress.

  2. Believe in yourself

    Reduce stress, calm down and gain perspective with humour. For instance, if we say to ourselves:

    "Isn't it amazing that Aunt Sally is able to turn everything into an argument. What a talent!"

    ...it helps us feel like adults rather than victims.

  3. Get allies

    Recognise that we will do a better job if we have support from somebody else. (And if nobody else will support us, just maybe the problem is us!) So find somebody who will give support. Maybe they don't need to have an active role immediately, but just knowing that someone is there to help if needed, can make a big difference.

  4. The right and wrong way to deal with the enemy

    Imagine the wedding party: The band is playing, everybody is smiling, eating too much, admiring the glitter, laughing at jokes that aren't really funny, and fully immersed in a wonderful party. Then a small incident happens. Somebody knocks over a table candle in the corner, a small fire starts on the table linen but nobody notices. The flames edge across the table and catch hold of the long curtains. Somebody screams: FIRE! The band stops playing, people stare at the flames in disbelief and only realise the danger when the automatic fire alarm kicks in. Within minutes, firemen come to the rescue and throw a bucket of water over the flames. The fire is quickly extinguished and the band plays on.

    ...fast rewind...

    ...The band stops playing, people stare at the flames in disbelief and only realise the danger when the automatic fire alarm kicks in. Within minutes, fireman Bush comes to the rescue and throws a bucket of gasoline over the flames. He believes it's the right thing to do, cannot understand why the fire gets worse, and of course, nobody survives.

    And the moral of this Bush era parable: don't make a bad situation worse.

    Think like a customer-relations operator in the complaints department of Shoddy and Co. If ten minutes is spent hearing a person's gripes, it typically shuts them up. But if we spend our time arguing or avoiding them, they just get louder.

    Throwing a tantrum to 'clear the air' does not work. Accept that our relatives or friends will not change their attitude. If they do in fact change their ways, then that's a bonus. But let's assume that they won't.

    And don't think the problem will just go away. Like it or not, these people are part of our lives. And they are a bit weird, aren't they! How is it that our friends and relatives are much stranger than other people's?

    Part of the problem is that we have expectations that people will change. They don't, we get disappointed, and consequently the problem appears to be worse. So by accepting that they won't change, we are already dealing with the problem!

    We must choose how we should react ourselves. (We're going to start talking about the 'L' word now.) If we are usually judgmental or critical of our 'problem person', then let's find a way to throw in a bit of love and appreciate this person's struggle. Don't worry; it's not being suggested that we throw tons of love on the person, but just a tiny bit; just an extra kind word or deed for example. And that will throw them off balance.

    It's quite likely they usually have an automatic rebellious attitude towards us, just as we have towards them. Give them an extra wide smile and they'll melt like butter. This gives us the advantage.

  5. If we are in the wrong...

    ...apologise! Now we have another advantage over the enemy. But don't spoil the apology with excuses. Make it sincere, but short. Then move forward.

  6. Negotiate with the enemy

    Now that we've softened them up, talk with the problem person, find some common ground, and build on it.

    As with any successful negotiation, we should prepare what we are going to say. When Aunt Sally gives unsolicited advice or criticizes, our brains do go dead for a moment. If we prepare in advance what diplomatic thing we are going to say, we'll be OK even if our brain starts to fog up.

    Find out what is valuable or important to them but has little value to us. Give them that. They will feel they have won, and we will not feel we have lost.

    Similarly, find something of value to us but of little value to them. Ask them for it. We will feel a victor, and they will not feel losers.

    There may be one or two things that neither side feels they can negotiate, but if we can give and take on other points as we've just described, there will be less general contention and full reconciliation will be closer.

    Compromise and negotiation are fundamental to success. The art is to divide the cake in such a way that everybody believes they got the biggest piece.

    Let's say Aunt Sally insists on dealing with the caterers. We know it would be a disaster and that we could do it better ourselves. Think. What else would Aunt Sally enjoy doing? Ah yes, flowers! We'd rather hire a professional florist, but let's look at that chapel again. If the flowers are a disaster, will it really matter?

    Let's say that flowers are not so important to us:

    1. First, maximise the flowers, minimise the catering.
      • "Those flowers are a problem Aunt Sally. They are so important because they will be in the photographs for eternity. The food is not such a big deal. Within a couple of hours, everyone will have forgotten what they ate."
    2. Negotiate with positive comments.
      • "Aunt Sally, you showed great expertise with flowers with your choice of cushion covers (lots of imagination needed when negotiating!) and the flowers for the wedding are causing us a bit of a problem. Do you think you could deal with them? They are so important because they'll be in the photographs for eternity. I know you wanted to take care of the catering but the food is not such a big deal; you know how it is - within a couple of hours, everyone forgets what they've eaten. So I'll look after the food."
    3. Negotiate as though we are putting their thoughts and desires first.
      • Start the sentence with "You", not "I".
        "Aunt Sally, you showed great expertise with flowers ... ... So I'll look after the food."
    4. End with a positive comment.
      • "We're so grateful that you've agreed to help us."

    (Time for a flower joke?)

  7. Don't give up

    Yes, we can keep some distance if we want to, but keep doors open. Give them a chance: Some people grow up slowly or let down their defences slowly.

    Above all, have patience. A gentle mountain stream can split the whole mountain, given enough time.

Some of our most powerful world leaders still do not understand that nobody wins in a war. As with the ludicrous fire story above, don't fight with relatives - it will only make matters worse. Speak sweetly. Nature doesn't like hardness in speech, that's why there is no bone in the tongue.

Return to the Wedding planning page.

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