Stop Trying to Reason with Unreasonable People


Seriously. Stop it. It doesn’t work. They don’t get it. And it’s making you miserable.

I see it all the time in my practice. Clients struggle to figure out how to make a relationship work, why it’s not getting better, what they’re doing wrong that keeps things stuck. Often, from where I sit, I see they’re only making one mistake: They’re making what to them seems like a reasonable response to a bad situation and expecting that THIS TIME they will get a better result. That’s when I tell them to stop trying to reason with an unreasonable person.

My client, David, has a 28 year old daughter, Lisa, who has been a drug addict since she was 14. David says, “I’ve spent a fortune on bail, lawyers, and probation. I could have driven across the country with the miles I’ve logged getting her to community service. David came to therapy because he is torn. Lisa is in jail, again, and looking for a way out. David says, “I can’t just leave her in jail but, honestly, for the first time in a long time, I’m sleeping at night, What kind of father is happier when his child is in jail?”

I look at him kindly and say, “The kind who has worn himself out trying to do the right thing but going about it all wrong.”

You see, anyone can get in trouble, get sick, or need help. It’s natural to want help a loved one who is in a tough situation. If your loved one is reasonable, things will improve as they heal, learn from the situation, make changes to stay clear of trouble. Life will move on in a more-or-less normal course.

When you’re dealing with someone with an addiction, a personality disorder, or other affliction that I will lump into an umbrella term of “unreasonable,” the situation may seem better in the short-term but soon they are back off course and often the situation gets worse. And you run the risk of being derailed yourself if you respond in the ways you did before.

So, what is the solution? David and I worked on a plan that included these steps:

  1. Look at the situation more objectively and from the big picture. David realized that bailing Lisa out was a temporary fix and that nothing was changing long term.
  2. Decide who is responsible for making long-term changes. In David’s case, he realized that the only person who could get Lisa clean was Lisa and he had taken too much ownership of her sobriety.
  3. Decide what is your responsibility and handle ONLY that part. David realized bailing Lisa out was allowing her to keep using pretty easily.
  4. Decide how you are willing to change and create a plan to carry it out. David did not want to abandon his daughter but he was no longer willing to pay to get her out of trouble. He decided not to bail her out of jail and suggested she contact a public defender. He decided when the time was right, he would offer to help Lisa with a rehab program but only if she was willing to pay a portion of her own treatment. He set limits he was comfortable with.
  5. Practice self-care: get support, talk to a therapist, join a group, be nice to yourself. David continued therapy, joined Nar-Anon, focused on improving the neglected relationships with is wife and two other children.

What about you? Are you dealing with an unreasonable person? I’d love to hear about your experiences and what you’re doing to make things better..