How to Deal With Loved Ones Who Refuse to Change

Three Methods:Interacting with Stubborn Loved OnesCommunicating Effectively When Someone Refuses to ChangeHelping Loved Ones Help Themselves

When faced with a scenario in which someone you love is decidedly “set in their ways,” you have a decision to make. You can simply accept them as they are, or you can act to improve your ability to communicate, connect, and grow with your loved one. When a loved one is so unwilling to change that their behavior has a detrimental impact on those around them, address the issue by taking healthy, proactive steps that may convince them to change.

Method 1
Interacting with Stubborn Loved Ones

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    Focus on asking your loved one to change a behavior. It is important to make sure that you are asking your loved one to change a behavior and not to change who he or she is. Try to identify the specific behavior that you would like your loved one to change rather than suggesting that your loved one change her personality. Some behaviors that your loved one might be able to change include:
    • criticizing
    • nagging
    • making inappropriate remarks, such as racist, sexist, or homophobic comments
    • yelling or screaming at you
    • not respecting your privacy, such as by invading your space or prying during conversations
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    Lead with a compliment. People who are not willing to consider another’s perspective or who are consistently engaging in behavior that is detrimental to themselves or your other family members are likely hard to talk to. Try to approach your loved one gently and start by offering a sincere compliment.
    • Always begin your compliments with "I" rather than "you." For example, you might compliment your loved one by saying something like, "I appreciate your help with the dishes," or “I have always admired how assertive you are,” or “I think your passion for politics is so cool!”[1]
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    Point to the problems with your loved one’s behavior. Once you have gotten your loved one’s attention and helped to disarm him or her with a compliment, it may be easier to bring up the behavior that bothers you without causing your loved one to become defensive. Remember the goal is to focus on a behavior that you would like your loved one to change, not changing your loved one.
    • For example, you might say, “Dad, I feel uncomfortable when you make remarks about people who are gay. I have good friends who are gay and they are not at all how you describe them. I feel hurt and confused when you say those things.”
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    Offer encouragement. It is possible that your loved one will become defensive. When someone is blatantly refusing to change or reconsider an opinion, he may be out of his comfort zone. If this happens, try to encourage your loved one to approach the situation differently.[2]
    • For example, you might say something like, “I know this is not a comfortable topic for you, but I think it is awesome that you are willing to talk to me about it.”
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    Make yourself available to your loved one. Take care never to avoid your loved one, even when he or she may be frustrating you.[3] Unless you or others are in danger because of the other person’s behavior, don’t avoid your loved one.
    • Isolating your loved one may intensify his or her problematic tendencies, so continue to include your loved one in activities as you usually do.
    • Make sure your loved one knows he or she can come to you with problems. Try saying something like, “I want you to know that I’m here for you when you want to talk.”
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    Avoid pressuring your loved one to change. Change takes time and pressuring your loved one will not make it happen any faster. Try to avoid doing things that might cause your loved one’s negative behavior to continue, such as:[4]
    • Constantly bringing up the issue. After you have made your loved one aware of your feelings, he or she will need to think about what you have said and make a decision to change or not change the behavior. Continuing to bring up the issue on a regular basis will not speed the process or sway your loved one. It is more likely to upset your loved one than anything else.
    • Avoid passive-aggressive comments about a loved one’s behavior. Making passive-aggressive comments is another form of pressuring your loved one, so it is best to avoid these. For example, don’t say things like, “Too bad some people are so close-minded.”
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    Stand up for yourself. If your loved one’s behaviors are hurting you, then you need to stand up for yourself. This can be difficult, especially if you are used to keeping quiet when you have an opinion.[5] However, you will need to start being more assertive to help your loved one see that his or her behavior is not okay.
    • Try saying something like, “I respect your opinions, but I have a right to my opinion as well. The things you are saying/doing are hurting me and I want the behaviors to stop.”

Method 2
Communicating Effectively When Someone Refuses to Change

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    Articulate your willingness to have a conversation free of blame. State that you have no desire to attack a loved one. Emphasize an interest in listening and responding to one another non-defensively.[6]
    • If something comes up, but tempers are running high or the context is not appropriate for an open, heartfelt conversation, ask your loved one to agree to talk soon.
    • State the intention of a conversation beforehand. For instance, say something like, “I want to strengthen our relationship by better understanding ______.”
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    Open a conversation about your loved one with a story about yourself. Particularly if you’re hoping to discuss your loved one’s unwillingness to change – or willingness to see something differently – talk about a time you came to an awakening of your own.[7]
    • Talk about a time you accepted help for something you had previously insisted wasn’t an issue.
    • Check your terminology and framing to ensure you are not shaming your loved on for whatever it is you believe he or she needs to change.
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    Quit trying to reason. Abandon the concept of who’s right and who’s wrong. If someone refuses to change – either a behavior or perspective on a single issue – he or she may not be relying on reason or logic to make this decision.[8] The behavior may just be part of your loved one’s belief system, so debating will not help.
    • Avoid starting a debate with your loved one. Don’t ask your loved one to provide proof for his or her beliefs or try to prove your loved one wrong.
    • Ask questions. Try to better understand where your loved one is coming from. For example, you might ask something like, “What experiences did you have that have caused you to feel that way?”
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    Use “I” statements when conveying your opinions. Making it clear that you recognize that your own perspectives are often subjective or opinionated may help loved one’s come to the same conclusion.[9]
    • Begin sentences with “I think ______”, “In my opinion_____”, or “It seems to me that _____”.
    • If a statement requires elaboration, follow with something like “So, I’m wondering about _____”, or “It seems that this might lead to _______”.
    • Elaborations are only necessary when your loved one doesn’t respond to your initial observations or stated feelings.
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    Demonstrate the way you hope a conversation will go. Send clear signals that you are willing to revisit and rethink your positions, and that you hope your loved one will have the same attitude.[10]
    • If you state opinion as truth and your loved one jumps on you for it, admit that your terminology was problematic and adjust it.
    • Say something like, “Well… yes, you’re right, I can’t be positive, but I see it like this.”
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    Laugh off brief moments of tension. It is extremely normal for moments of tension to arise in everyday conversation, especially between loved ones who spend a lot of time together. If this does occur, quickly try to reduce the tension.[11]
    • Say something like, “Jeez, we’re both being pretty stubborn!”
    • All it takes for someone’s defenses to go up is one side refusing to give ground. Make sure it isn’t you that pushes a conversation into deadlock.
    • Follow up any potential spots of conversational lock-up with a question such as, “Do you see it differently?”
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    Be patient. You may end up feeling most frustrated just when your loved one is closest to adjusting their behavior, when they’ve acknowledged that things need to change but may still be slipping.[12]
    • Recognize that even when people are willing, change takes time. Breaking entrenched patterns of behavior in particular is a process.
    • Incremental improvements, even only during dialogue, are worth acknowledging.
    • Show your appreciation for a loved one’s effort and willingness to change by thanking your loved one for talking with you.
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    Know when to end a conversation. Sometimes, it may be the most healthy or safe decision to change the subject or simply walk away. If your loved one is absolutely unwilling to have a mature conversation and becomes aggressive or starts to shout, then don’t risk your own stability and safety.[13] End the conversation before it gets out of hand.
    • For example, you could say something like, “Let’s talk some other time when we are both feeling calm.” Or, “This has been a good start, but I think we should end it here.”

Method 3
Helping Loved Ones Help Themselves

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    Get informed. Whatever has brought the issue of your loved one’s unwillingness to change to your attention may require more than conversation to address properly. Look into how to help your loved one deal with any of the issues you think your loved one may be having in their individual lives.[14]
    • Part of being there is having something to say when someone comes to you for help. (Or when they don’t.)
    • Know the first step that a loved will need to take so you can recommend it.
    • Talk to a health care professional. You may benefit both in terms of knowledge about your loved one’s scenario, and in terms of your own mental health, by seeing a mental health professional yourself.
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    Ask your loved one to consider professional help. If you’re able to have an honest conversation with a loved one who is struggling with personal issues, you’ll likely have an opportunity to help. Try to find some information about where your loved one can go for help. The best way to do this may be advising your loved one to see a general practitioner and ask for a referral to a therapist.[15]
    • Your loved one may be more likely to agree to seeing a general practitioner than to seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist. General practitioners may then be able to convince your loved one to see a mental health care professional.
    • When advising your loved one to get help, emphasize statements your loved one has made or behavior that may bring harm to your loved one or to others. For example, you might say, “I am concerned about what you said about feeling angry all of the time. I think that you might need to talk to someone about that to feel better.”
    • If you don’t know where to look for help or information, contact organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness.[16]
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    Ask your loved one to get help for you. If your loved one resists your recommendation to see a professional or otherwise get help, you might consider asking him or her to do so for the sake of your relationship.[17]
    • Ask other friends and loved ones to do the same.
    • In dangerous scenarios in which your loved one’s behavior is detrimentally affecting his or her own and others’ health and safety, this may be the only way to convince your loved one to address the need to change.
    • Try something like, “I know you’re struggling with ______ right now, and I want to let you know I support you. I want our relationship to stay healthy and positive, and it would mean a lot to me if you got help dealing with _____.”
  4. Image titled Guard Yourself from Sexual Immorality Step 3
    Know when to end a relationship. Set boundaries for relationships in which there is risk to yourself or others, including your loved one. Take the time to reflect on what you are willing to participate in, help with, or, frankly, put up with in your life.[18]
    • Articulate the boundaries you set for yourself to your loved one. For example, you might say something like, “I can’t be around you when you have been drinking. If I come home and you are drunk, then I will have to leave.”
    • If a loved one consistently knowingly defies or asks you to defy boundaries you’ve clearly articulated, you need to consider ending the relationship.
    • If a loved one is consistently hurting you or others, you need to act. Ideally, your loved one will be willing to willing to change his or her behavior. If not, you may need to distance yourself from your loved one, and potentially stop seeing the person.

Sources and Citation


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Categories: Family Life