People often have the most toxic relationships with female members of their own family, research reveals.
Wives, mothers and sisters were rated the most difficult to deal with in the study of over 12,000 relationships.
However, the reason may be that close female relatives are more likely to be emotionally involved in people’s lives.
Relationships were often labelled ‘difficult’ by people because the other person demanded support, but did not provide it in return.
Professor Claude Fischer, the study’s first author, said:
“The message here is that, with female relatives, it can be a two-sided thing.
They may be the people you most depend on, but also the people who nag you the most.
It’s a testament to their deeper engagement in social ties.”
The study included over 1,100 people who described over 12,000 relationships.
The results showed that people rated about 15 percent of their relationships as difficult.
These were most likely to be female family members or aging parents.
Most frequently named as difficult by younger people were:
- Sisters (30 percent),
- wives (27 percent),
- and mothers (24 percent).
People had far fewer problems with friends: only 6 percent were seen as difficult.
Professor Shira Offer, the study’s first author, said:
“The results suggest that difficult people are likely to be found in contexts where people have less freedom to pick and choose their associates.”
While workplace relationships could be difficult, those people were not intimately engaged with their lives, so were easier to avoid than a family member.
Professor Fischer said:
“Whether it’s an alcoholic father whom you want to cut ties with, an annoying friend with whom you have a long history or an overbearing boss, relationships are complicated and in many cases unavoidable.”
The study was published in the journal American Sociological Review (Offer & Fischer, 2017).