Brace yourself and prepare ahead when your difficult aunt plans a visit.

How to Deal With Difficult Aunts

by Bonnie Crowe

Dealing with difficult aunts can cause family upheaval, especially if you say something that causes hard feelings. You might have a compulsive aunt who rearranges your furniture for better feng shui, a snippy aunt who makes nasty comments about how spoiled your kids are or an embarrassing aunt who invites herself to dinner, gets blotto and then spends the evening criticizing your cooking. Whatever brand of difficulty you are “blessed” with -- keep calm and carry on.

1. Turn the Tables by Agreeing

As much as you might like telling good, old Aunt Ina to take a hike, the next time she informs you that the dinner you’ve spent all day preparing tastes like cardboard and is aggravating her diverticulitis, resist the urge to apologize or retaliate by pointing out her culinary shortcomings and try tuning it out, instead. When faced with an aunt who is a critic, it’s important not to take it personally, says psychologist and author, Gladeana McMahon in her article, "How to Deal With Difficult Relatives Over Christmas (or at any time of year!)" Critical people are needy attention seekers. Next time your aunt gets on your case, smile and deflect the comment by agreeing with her. If you show that her comment doesn’t bother you, odds are you’ll take the wind out of her angry sails, rendering her silent.

2. Be the Artful Dodger

Dodge arguments by steering the conversation away from controversial topics, suggests Gretchen Rubin in her Psychology Today article, "8 Tips for Dealing With Difficult Relatives." If your aunt likes to bring up salacious subjects during dinner, try making a joke out of it or changing the topic in a hurry. If your aunt starts an argument with you or another family member, step in and calmly suggest that you both “agree to disagree.”

3. Form an Alliance

You don’t have to participate in “The Hunger Games” to form an alliance. Disarm a difficult relative by asking for her help in a kind, but subtly conspiratorial tone, suggests Leonard Felder, Ph.D., author of “When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People.” Build rapport by asking for your aunt's advice on how to make a family visit better or get her opinion on a controversial subject. Once you and your aunt are on the same side, you might actually enjoy each other's company.

4. Develop a Sense of Humor About Her

Diffuse an argument or tense situation by making a joke about your cantankerous aunt. If your aunt starts berating or embarrassing you in public, make a comment like, "I wonder who that is," as if you've never seen her before, suggests Felder. Empower yourself by keeping your emotions detached from your aunt.

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