How do I get out of a tricky family situation?

Our agony aunt Mary Fenwick offers a new perspective on your challenges and problems


How do I get out of a tricky family situation?

My mother-in-law has lots of amazing, often far-fetched ideas, the latest of which she is trying to include me in. She wants to set up a food business – it could be a success, and I would enjoy being involved in it if it wasn’t for her perfectionism and need to always have her own way. She is very bossy and things often end in tears if it all goes wrong. I don’t think this business venture, especially when it means investing my own money, is a good idea because of her erratic temperament and the fact that I know it will probably be a disaster for our relationship, as well as affecting my relationship with my husband. How can I get out of it without hurting either of their feelings? NAME SUPPLIED

The aim of not hurting anyone’s feelings is not a sustainable way to live a life. It is remarkable that you might contemplate losing money, being shouted at and causing disaster to your relationship with your husband, rather than cause hurt feelings.

This is a variation on the basic question of how we say no, which I have come to think is one of our most important, and under-rated life skills. If you can’t say no, then what is your yes worth?

Since this is supposed to be a business proposal, you might be interested in the views of the Harvard Business Review, which has nine tips on how to ‘know your no’ including: appreciate that the request is a compliment; say no to the request not the person; and practise saying no in slightly easier situations to build up your strength and courage.

From your description, I also wonder how you and your husband could apply these rules together to ensure that there are boundaries to your life as a couple, and it doesn’t become a threesome.   

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line

More inspiration:

Browse Nine practices to help you say no from the Harvard Business Review

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