Dealing With A Family Member Who Won’t Get Her Life Together

October 6, 2017  |  
1 of 15 woman sitting at home and using smart phone

If you’re very lucky, then you come from a family of stable individuals who take responsibility for their own lives. But a lot of people have family members who just can’t quite get their lives together. Dealing with them can be tricky. Usually, when you see a train wreck, you just don’t befriend that person. But you don’t always have the option to sever ties with a family member. And, don’t forget, you’re probably all they have—everyone else in their life left them. You can’t blame those people, because you, too, try to minimize the number of individuals in your life who just can’t or won’t help themselves. But your family member is one person you can’t kick out of your life. So you’ll just have to find a way to deal. Here are tips for dealing with a family member who won’t get her life together.


Don’t indulge their delusions

Often, people who won’t get jobs or constantly lose jobs has delusions of grandeur. They give their boss attitude because they think they should be running that company. They feel they are too good for menial work. When they go on rants about how they should already be a CEO of this or a celebrity in this arena, don’t indulge them. Ask them pointed questions about how exactly that would happen. Pull at the threads of their delusion so they can see it actually isn’t that easy and they actually do need to do the lower-end work for now.

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Show them they’re wrong sometimes

People who drop the ball and bail on their responsibilities usually blame the rest of the world. Train wrecks tend to have victim mentalities. They may lose a job because they were drinking at work, and accuse their boss of being uptight. Don’t take their side, just because they’re your family member. They need to see that if they don’t start to face reality, they could have nobody on their side.



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Don’t lend money

No matter what you do, don’t lend money to someone who won’t get her life together. You can make her work for it—like you can make a delinquent cousin file documents or walk your dog for you in exchange for money. But don’t lend money because you likely won’t get it back.





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Don’t apologize for speaking the truth

Those whose lives are constantly falling apart typically just need a reality check. Of course, the reason their lives are falling apart in the first place is because they’re mentally or emotionally weak. In other words, they’re sensitive. Rather than accept truths you tell them, they might get angry at you, and call you insensitive or uncaring. Don’t take it personally. The angrier they become at the things you say, the more truthful your statement must have been.


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Set phone boundaries

People who don’t quite have their lives together tend to be needy. Every day there is something. You know what I mean—something they want to complain about, some person they want to tell you wronged them, or something they need help with. If you answer all of their calls, you’ll never be off the phone. Set phone boundaries and only answer if it’s truly convenient for you.



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Set visitation boundaries

If your mess of a family member lives in town, she may want to see you a lot. But you have your own life. You have been responsible and built a gratifying but busy life for yourself and as such, sometimes you need to relax. Don’t let your family member steal your relaxation time. Don’t let the stress of her mistakes leak into your peaceful time.




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Understand they could be jealous

Unfortunately, you can’t really share your good news with your family member who never has good news. Even though that may be her fault, it’s still hard for her to rejoice when something good happens for you. You’ll rarely get the reaction you want out of a train wreck family member when you tell them your good news. So share your news with other happy, stable people.



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Beware of making introductions

While you want to help your family member, don’t forget about their track record. They tend to drop the ball, back out of things, and generally not hold up their end of bargains. If you introduce them to someone who can give them a job, they may burn that bridge and that reflects poorly on you.




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When they do something good, applaud, applaud, applaud

When your family member does even a small thing that is responsible, you need to applaud it like it’s huge. You wouldn’t praise normal people for putting two job applications in the mail, but this isn’t a normal person—this is a person who needs a little extra push right now. Make her dinner to celebrate the fact that she filled out two applications. She needs all the encouragement she can get.


If possible, don’t let them stay with you

Why does this family member need a place to stay? Because she keeps getting kicked out of her places for breaking the rules, or falling behind on rent. There’s no reason she won’t do the same thing with you. In fact, there is a reason she’ll be more prone to breaking rules with you: you’re family. If at all possible, don’t let this person stay with you.




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If they must stay, make them set goals

If the family member must stay with you, set strict ground rules and goals. These could be things like, “You can only stay with me if you spend an hour a day applying to jobs” or “You can only stay with me if you go to therapy once a week.” That way, you’ve set up clear expectations and if she breaks them, you have a reason to ask her to leave.




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Remember they affect your partner

If you need more of a reason to keep this family member from intruding on your life, think of your partner. He needs your attention, but your family member always takes it. He likes his personal space, but your family member is sleeping on the couch. If you’re in a relationship then not setting boundaries with a troublesome family member is actually inconsiderate of your partner.



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Help them recognize triggers

Maybe certain things trigger destructive behavior in this person, like breakups, visiting her mother, or alcohol. Help her identify these so she can address them. Perhaps every time your family member goes through a breakup, she starts skipping work (and subsequently loses her job).





Get them away from enablers

Recognize the enablers in your family member’s life and get her away from them. These include anyone who tells your family member she is always right, encourages her to do her destructive behaviors (drink too much, overspend), or even participates in the destructive behavior with her.




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Be loving, but be firm

Throughout doing all of this, use a loving tone. While you might feel the urge to talk to this person like a child because she’s acting like one, that tone will only trigger her to act out, more. You can be loving without letting this family member walk all over you. Make sure she always knows you want the best for her, and that you do and say things out of that desire.

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