How to handle a relative with bad manners

jeff asks: I have family in town for the holidays. Everything is going well for the most part, the usual drama. However, my sister who is 43 now does not close the door when she uses the bathroom or wash her hands when she is done. My kids ages 13 & 15 are appalled. I don’t know how to approach my sister without upsetting her. She’s been through a lot the last few years, but this issue MUST be addressed.

Hi Jeff –


I have a GREAT suggestion, but it’s probably too late – which is to get a dog.  We pups absolutely LOVE sniffing around humans when you’re making interesting smells, and your sister would most likely get pretty annoyed by us doing that, and so shut the door!


But if that’s not a possibility, I’d say that the problem here is your nervousness and embarrassment.  What she’s doing is not what most people consider normal polite behavior, and you’re probably so shocked by it you have trouble with your own emotions (i.e. you want to scream at her “SHUT THE @&#*%! DOOR!!” – and since you don’t want to do that, you get stifled).  You wrote to the right advisor on this, because we dogs never get embarrassed like that.


Here’s what to do:  Say to her “Hey we always shut the doors when we use the bathroom.  I need you to do that when you’re here too.”  Just be simple and direct.  No need to shame her, just say it the same way you’d say “We always take a moment of silence before dinner,” as if it’s a new family ritual you want her to know about.  No big deal at all.


Then, on the hand-washing issue, I’d let there be a conversation sometime, maybe at dinner (and have your kids in on this too – they’ll love it).  Just say you recently read an article about how much one can avoid diseases through hand washing.  And talk about when it’s a good idea — For example, doctors will wash their hands after every patient they see, even if they don’t touch them much.  I know a person who meets with people to talk with them, and washes his hands after every meeting – and so hasn’t had a cold in years.


Then, during the conversation, you can add in that of course there are other times everyone washes – like before meals or after using the bathroom – and just let the conversation move on.


Again, I’m guessing the problem you’re having is that you’re so appalled by what she’s doing that you feel you can’t talk about it without shaming her.  The trick is to just pull back, and find ways – like the ones I’ve shown above.


But again, a dog would make this so much easier.  Oh, just imagine what she’d be like if I came around after she left the bathroom and wouldn’t stop sniffing her hands…!!!  Issue RESOLVED!


All my best,


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