HOW DO I DEAL WITH DIFFICULT FAMILY AS A CHRISTIAN
Are you trying to understand how you can deal with difficult family members biblically?
Maybe you were wondering, “What does the Bible say about cutting people out of your life?” And now you’re looking for biblical verses about difficult family or biblical verses about difficult relationships in general.
Perhaps you’re not even sure if you’re dealing with difficult family members, or if your family is simply annoying.
You want to be a good Christian and want to do the right thing, but it looks like no matter how much you love, forgive and turn the other cheek, the mistreatment never stops — it’s just getting worse.
The situation is completely unhealthful, everyone involved is miserable, and nothing works, no matter how much you try.
You want to be kind, but they drive you crazy, and you are not sure what to do about it.
So now you are wondering, “What does the Bible say about dealing with a difficult relationship?” The good news is that if you have toxic people in your life or are in a difficult relationship, you’re not alone!
After all, as Christians, we do not just want to get along with our loved ones, but we also don’t want to respond in rage and hurt.
You do not want to start cutting people out of your life or cutting off ties with difficult family members or friends for no reason at all. We want to know how to deal biblically with difficult family members so that we can use the wisdom of the Bible to guide our actions.
If you ever wonder, “How can I set limits and still be a loving person? “Where should the limits be?” Or, “How can I say no without feeling so guilty?”
But I think it’s great that you ask, “What does the Bible say about difficult family members?” rather than just lashing out in response to your hurt feelings.
I will share my best step-by-step advice on learning how to deal biblically with difficult family members. But before we get there, let’s begin by identifying the signs of a difficult relationship.
SIGNS OF A DIFFICULT RELATIONSHIP
You might be wondering, “Am I in a difficult relationship with my family?” Or, “is my brother a toxic person?
Let us turn to the Bible for an answer. The Bible describes what love should look like in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. It says:
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
Now, when we take the opposite of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, what do we see?
We see various signs of a toxic person or signs of a difficult relationship:
• Lack of patience
• Dishonors others
• Delight in your pain or suffering
• Boasts excessively
• Excessively proud
• Is verbal or physically abusive
• Gives up easily
• Acts jealous over every little thing
• Neglects or fails to protect or defend you;
• Refuses to trust
• Lacks hope
• Reminds people of past mistakes
If your friends and family members are just annoying, it’s probably best to give them grace and try to ignore their flaws if talking to them doesn’t help.
However, if you read these signs of a difficult relationship and thought, “Yes, I certainly have difficult family members” then this article on how to deal with difficult family members biblically is definitely for you.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT DIFFICULT FAMILY MEMBERS?
And now that we have identified signs of a difficult relationship, what are we supposed to do about it? Do we have to “play nice” because they are family, or just cut people out of your life even when they’re family?
Let us just take a look.
As Christians, many of us know these Bible verses:
“But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” —Luke 6:27-31.
And yes, we definitely should love our enemies. But sometimes I think we forget what love means.
Well, loving someone doesn’t just mean playing “nice,” always being a peacemaker, or just letting others walk all over you. This isn’t love — it is called enabling.
A better definition of love would be: to respect the true integrity of another person, to accept their intrinsic value as human beings, and to do everything in your power to do good for them and to act in their best interests.
Yeah, it may certainly mean being “kind” (1 Cor. 13:4), but it is so much more than that. If you look at how Jesus acts in the Gospels, His actions are not always what we consider as “nice.”
When the Canaanite woman asked Jesus for his support in Matthew 15:26, “But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.”
Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”
And let us not forget how “Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,” in Matthew 21:12.
Here, I’m not really going to suggest you call your difficult family members dogs or vipers or turn their tables! My argument here is that the Bible does not tell us that we need to be super polite, calm, and passive to the point of being walked over and enabling others to commit their atrocities.
Jesus instructs the apostles in Matthew 10:14 to “leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet” and to “treat [unrepentant sinners] as a pagan or tax collector” in Matthew 18:17.
Jesus’ plan is not to make us “nice.” It is to make us (and our loved ones) holy. Sometimes it means treating us kindly. But at other times, this means protecting our families and ourselves instead of protecting the feelings of others who insist on evil attitudes or behaviors.
HOW TO DEAL WITH DIFFICULT FAMILY MEMBERS BIBLICALLY
So since the Bible doesn’t tell us to be passive doormats, how should we deal biblically with difficult family members?
Here is what I would advise:
1. ASSESS THE SITUATION HONESTLY
Difficult family members are really annoying. And it only makes sense for you to get worked up when your friends and family members start showing signs of a toxic person or start observing the many signs of a difficult relationship.
However, before you get too worked up, take a step back and analyze the situation honestly:
• Is the other person actually toxic, or just annoying, thoughtless, etc.?
• Is the issues serious enough to warrant actions, or can you overlook it for the sake of family unity?
• Are you sure the actions of the other person are deliberate, not simply perceived?
• What kind of effect is the behavior having on you and your family?
• What have you done to fix the problem in the past?
• Have you told the other person how you felt and what you’d like to change?
• Do things get better, stay the same, or get worse?
In the best-case scenario: you may understand that the other party didn’t intend to hurt you and that they didn’t know that their behavior would be so hurtful. If that is the case, you may need to have a discussion.
Alternatively, if the action is purposeful but small enough in nature, you can actually overlook it or prevent a situation when possible. Life is not perfect, and people are annoying, and sometimes we have to deal with annoying people.
Yeah, there are moments when you may need to take action (there are moments when cutting people out of your life is the best decision to make), but let’s not jump there yet.
Can the behavior be easily resolved or overlooked? If so (and the situation is not serious), then start right here.
2. ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY MISCONDUCT ON YOUR PART
Next, take a minute to look at yourself and any role you might have played in the matter: have you done anything to make the situation worse? Or failed to do anything to make the situation better?
Although the situation may not necessarily be “your fault” (especially in cases of gross abuse), once we reach adulthood, each of us is responsible for and accountable for our acts.
And that’s a good thing! And this means that you have the strength and the freedom to take alternative decisions and improve the situation.
It’s time, to be honest with yourself
• Have you said or done something hurtful to the other person?
• Have you done or said anything hurtful to the other person?
• Have you ever failed to treat them as politely or as kindly as you should have done?
• Have you ever been arrogant, self-centered, or mean-spirited?
Again, I am not saying the mistreatment is your fault. But if you have done (or intend to do) things that harm the other person, they might be acting out of the harm. And a heartfelt apology for any wrongdoing on your part might be just what the other person needs to heal.
You are not responsible for others, so you’re accountable and responsible for yourself — no matter what they’ve done to “deserve it.”
3. SET HEALTHY, BIBLICAL BOUNDARIES WITH FAMILY
After you’ve been honest about the situation and the role that you might have played in it, it’s time to set some Biblical boundaries for family members and friends who may need them.
What behaviors will you accept? Which behaviors will you not accept? Where’s the boundary?
If you’re dealing with people and circumstances that are really dangerous, dishonest, irrational, or even violent, it can make you doubt your sanity and decision-making! You want to make things right, but you might be wondering what the right thing is, or what requests are fair. It can be hard to tell.
That’s where boundaries do a fantastic job of laying out a Biblical framework to help you understand what your responsibility is, what requests are unreasonable, where you should draw a line, and how you can do so without guilt.
So what do healthy, biblical boundaries with your family look like for you?
Do you have to limit visits or restrict your visits to a certain format? (You might call on the phone, for example, but you can no longer visit in person.)
Do you need to set the boundary that you will only visit X times a year, that you can only give X dollars a month, or you can only continue to be around them as long as the interaction stays safe and friendly?
Get wise advice from friends and family whom you trust to make sure your boundaries are reasonable, let the other party know your boundaries, and then stick to them.
There is no reason to feel bad about it. The Bible advises you to create biblical boundaries with the family where possible.
4. STICK TO YOUR BOUNDARIES!
When you set your boundaries and tell your friends and family members where they are — this is the hard part. You have to stick to the boundaries you have set.
I know, learning how to deal with difficult family members Biblically isn’t easy — it takes time and practice, and you won’t get it all right the first time, but stick with it.
And if you decide to “bend the rules,” your family will discover that your “rules” are not rules at all.
Seek Godly guidance, decide (through prayer) where your boundaries will be, and then stick to them!
Sometimes the most loving thing you can do in a relationship is to pray for the other person.
This is why God commands us in Luke 6:27-28, “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”
Pray that God would heal their pain, that they would open their eyes to their behavior, and that your relationship could be restored.
Pray that God will help you love your difficult family members and grant you the wisdom to deal wisely with them.
God will help you learn how to react to difficult family members — you just have to ask!
Now, I know that you may feel angry or resentful about the difficult family members and friends who have hurt you and destroyed your relationship, but the Bible is clear: we must forgive, even if we don’t feel like it.
We see this in Mark 11:25, which says, “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Please note, though: Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that what they did is all right or shouldn’t have any repercussions for their actions.
You can still set the Biblical boundaries and, if necessary, turn the offender to the authorities.
But we have a responsibility to forgive others (and particularly our enemies) if we want God to forgive us as well.
7. CLOSE THE DOOR
So far, I have asked the following questions:
• Am I in a difficult relationship?
• What are the signs of toxic people/signs of a difficult relationship?
• What does the Bible say about difficult family members/how to deal with difficult family members biblically?
If you have done all of the above to the best of your abilities, then it might be time for you to ask the last question: “What does the Bible say about cutting ties with the family/taking people out of your life?
The truth is: Although it would be awesome if we could all get along, the truth is that we have free will, and some people choose to use theirs in a way that hinders God’s will for our lives.
And we don’t have to stay stuck in difficult, abusive relationships when that happens.
God often walks away from the stubborn, immoral people (Romans 1:24-28). Jesus had times where he walked away (Matthew 12:34). And we have the Biblical right to walk away too.
God opens doors, but we always forget that He closes them too.
Sometimes, as sad as it is, when there is nothing more we can do, we just need to step back and let God deal with it in a way that only He can. And this is okay.