Six Tips for Dealing with Difficult Relatives: Lessons from Abigail

As the holidays grew closer, the excitement in my household grew. For the first time in a long time, we would get to host our extended family. We spent hours in preparation, making special foods, and cleaning the house so that everyone would feel comfortable and at home. 

Yet there was that one person. You know, the one that no matter what we did, they weren’t going to be happy. At the end of the weekend, we were thrown for a loop when we received a lecture criticizing our hospitality, accusing us of being inconsiderate, and questioning our walk with the Lord. We were left feeling verbally attacked, shell-shocked, and wondering, Where did we go wrong? 

Maybe you’re coming off the holidays in a similar situation. Rather than being relaxing and joyous, your time with family was filled with conflict, misunderstanding, disapproval, or rudeness. Perhaps, like me, you tend to replay those conversations as you lay in bed at night, wondering how you could have handled them differently.

As I’ve had time to think and pray over the situation, I’ve been reminded of the story of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25. She had a difficult person in her life, too—one whose foolishness went way beyond that of my distant relative! But her story gives me guidance for how I can approach these situations in the future. Because whether it’s next week or next Christmas, they will most likely come again.

Abigail’s Story

The Bible describes Abigail as a woman who was “beautiful and discerning” but married to a man who was “harsh and badly behaved.” Even her husband’s name, Nabal, means “fool” in Hebrew.

Nabal lived up to his name when he gravely insulted David, the would-be king of Israel. Because of this offense, David was readying his men to attack Nabal when Abigail intervened, appealing for reason. This godly woman’s actions prevented David from making an even more foolish choice than Nabal. Abigail’s household was spared, and eventually “the LORD struck Nabal, and he died” (1 Sam. 25:38).

Whether our relative is as selfish and rude as Nabal or they just rub us the wrong way, responding to a difficult person in kind will gain us nothing in return—except regret and the need to repent. There is a better way, and Abigail gives us some suggestions.

1. Face the Situation Head-On

I don’t like conflict, so when faced with a difficult relative, I’m tempted to find another room to hide in. I would rather avoid the situation and hope it goes away (it never does) than to try and deal with it.

Abigail is a great example of this. She’s not just faced with a hard conversation; she’s trying to intervene to save the lives of her husband and her household! Instead of shrinking away, she rose to meet the situation head-on, with wisdom and courage (1 Sam. 25:18–30). 

In our interactions with others, this can take different forms. It may mean engaging in the hard conversation and attempting to better understand the other person. It might look like playing the role of peacemaker. It might even mean setting boundaries if that person is doing something harmful. Whatever we do, however, we should follow the instructions of Jesus about responding to difficult people in love and humility.

Please note, however, that there’s nothing wrong with removing yourself from a situation when it gets to be too much or you need a moment to compose yourself. Sometimes we need a little time away so that we don’t lash out in anger.

2. Be Ready with a Peace Offering 

We don’t need to have bread, raisins, and cakes of figs readily available like Abigail did (1 Sam. 25:18), but we can offer an even greater peace offering—the Word of God. If we have immersed ourselves in the Truth before a difficult situation arises, we will be prepared to respond in a way that honors the Lord (Ps. 1:1–3). We can speak words that are wise, life-giving, and healing (Eph. 4:29; Prov. 12:18).

3. Know When to Speak—and When to Be Silent

Abigail knew she had to talk to David right away. Then when she returned home and found her husband intoxicated, she chose to wait until he was sober to tell him what she had done (1 Sam. 25:36–37).

Sometimes we need to just stay silent and let the other person talk (Prov. 18:13). Then, when they’re finished, we have the opportunity to respond. We can give them the courtesy of listening without interrupting, even if they don’t give that same courtesy in return. And there are times when it’s better to say nothing at all, even if every fiber of our being wants to shout out that that person is wrong (Prov. 17:27–28)!

However, there is also “a time to speak” (Eccl. 3:7)—to speak truth and to do so graciously, clearly, directly; to be respectful and humble in our response. Our goal shouldn’t be to prove that we’re right or to tear the other person down. Instead, we should try and bring reason into the conversation and encourage the other person to see the situation from God’s point of view.

4. Let God Deal with It

Abigail did what she could to handle the situation with Nabal and David, but in the end, she had to leave them both in God’s hands. 

In Romans 12:17–18, the apostle Paul writes, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

If you’ve done all you can to live peaceably with your relatives but they won’t live peaceably with you, what can you do? Here’s some guidance:

5. Pray for Them

While this (and the next step) isn’t specifically mentioned in Abigail’s story, with all we know about her being a godly woman, I think they were things she practiced on a regular basis.

When we’re dealing with an onslaught of criticism, anger, or negativity from someone else, it’s challenging to hold them up in prayer. However, it’s crucial—for both the other person and for our own hearts (Matt. 5:44–45). (Have you ever noticed that it’s almost impossible to stay angry at someone when you pray for them?)

As you pray, ask God to also examine your own heart. Was it just the other person who was being difficult, or were you being difficult, too? Did you sin against the other person? Were there any sinful attitudes in your heart? 

Then, pray for this person. If they don’t know Jesus, pray for their salvation. If they do, ask God to work in their heart and make them the person He wants them to be. And if you’re willing to pray but have no words, just say, “Lord, (insert their name here).” He knows what’s needed in their life, even if you don’t (Rom. 8:26).

6. Forgive Them—and Then Let It Go

No matter how deep the hurt, we need to forgive the other person. In fact, as followers of Christ, we have to! Jesus said so. He never said forgiveness would be easy, but He did say it was necessary. (To go deeper on the subject of forgiveness, check out these True Woman blog posts: “Lord, Forgive Us as We Forgive,” and “Feel the Pain . . . and Forgive”).

And then, you need to let it go. Stop going over the incident and re-living the hurt, and choose instead to focus on what the Lord wants you do to move forward (Phil. 3:13). In my recent situation, my wise mother-in-law encouraged me to meditate on Philippians 4:8: 

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

When I think about these types of things, my perspective changes from being focused on myself and my hurt to the Lord and what He’s teaching me through the situation. 

My Responsibility

At the end of the day, I could have done everything exactly right at the holidays and treated my relative in a godly way, but it wouldn’t have guaranteed they would act in a similar way or change their behavior. Ultimately, we’re not responsible for how others act or what they do to us. All we’re responsible for is how we respond.

As I pray about this situation with my relative going forward, I don’t want to be difficult. I want to seek peace, love them like Jesus does, and honor the Lord with my words and actions. I pray that He will use this difficult relationship to make me wise and discerning like Abigail—and shape me to be more like Jesus.

Editor’s note: To learn more from Abigail, check out our newly updated and expanded Bible study, Abigail: Living with the Difficult People in Your Life. (And Monday, check out our podcast, Women of the Bible. There’s a brand-new season—about Abigail—that starts next week!)

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About the Author

Mindy Kroesche

Mindy Kroesche

Mindy and her husband, Jon make their home in the heartland of Lincoln, Nebraska. They’ve been blessed with a son and daughter who remind them daily of God’s goodness and grace. Mindy is a stay-at-home mom who has the privilege of working part-time for Revive Our Hearts from home. She has degrees in journalism and French and has worked in ministry for over twenty years.

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