Mel Robbins: Fixing Family Issues

UPDATED: November 9, 2011
PUBLISHED: November 9, 2011

Would you like to know the secret to solving any communication problems you have within your family? A secret that’s been road-tested? Something foolproof? It works with kids, siblings, parents and grandparents. A secret so simple, anyone can use it. Skeptical? It’s the same method I tested on seven unsuspecting families this year—and it worked like a charm.

Allow me to explain.

I recently landed the opportunity of a lifetime: a starring role in a new A&E series called Monster In-Laws. During the show, I travel across America and move in with families who are on the brink of total disaster with their in-laws.

Obviously, the stakes are incredibly high. All these families are falling apart—grandparents cut off from grandkids, married couples so stressed they’re considering divorce—there’s yelling, screaming, resentment, frustration.

My job is to come in and bring the elephant in the room into focus, like the ringmaster of an emotional circus. Then, when the worst has been said and the dirty laundry has been aired, it’s my job to bring the family back together by any means necessary. I use the most confrontational tactics in my arsenal to bring the hard truths to the surface.

Need some visuals?

Imagine actually putting a piece of duct tape over your father-in-law’s mouth to shut him up because he never listens. What if you put your mother-in-law in a time-out chair because you’re tired of her passive-aggressive behavior? What would it feel like to watch your spoiled daughter-in-law pawn a piece of her own jewelry to finally pay back the loan you gave her?

I call my tactics experiential learning. Talk is cheap. Action is everything.

Which leads me to this observation about families: At the heart of every single conflict, there is just one issue. Someone feels disrespected.

Human beings want to feel important. We want to feel considered, respected and taken care of by our families. Whenever there is resentment, name calling, jealousy, frustration or anger in your family, you can boil it all down to someone’s feelings being hurt because you didn’t make them feel important.

For example, the mother-in-law I made to sit in time-out? The married couple felt disrespected because she blatantly broke all the house rules with her grandkids. And of course, the mother-in-law felt disrespected because her son-in-law blamed her for stuff that happened 20 years ago. She got a time-out, and he got a pair of boxing gloves and a punching bag.

The family at the pawn shop? Same thing. The mother-in-law felt disrespected because there had never been an effort made to repay the loan. The daughter-in-law felt disrespected because the mother-in-law didn’t come to visit very often. It all came crashing down inside that pawn shop.

You want to resolve issues in your family? Simple.

Whoever is acting out is doing so for one reason: You have done something to make them feel disrespected. They may not be right. That doesn’t matter. The only thing that will fix this is if you show them that you care, even if you have to pretend to care at first. Get into their head, and find out what’s bugging them. Then, take the extra step to do small things to make them feel important again. It’s so easy you’re probably wondering how you haven’t thought of it, right?

Trust me, it works like a charm, and you don’t even need duct tape.

Mel Robbins is a contributing editor to SUCCESS magazine, best-selling author, CNN commentator, creator of the “5 Second Rule” and the busiest female motivational speaker in the world. To find out more, visit her website: To follow her on Twitter: