(from Dealing with Relatives, Brinkman & Kirschner, McGraw-Hill) There are three “Magic Numbers” to know when it comes to dealing with your relatives: Geography, Frequency, and Time.

These numbers can mean the difference between having a good time that strengthens your family relationships, and having an awful time that damages relationships to the detriment of family.

The purpose of knowing your numbers is to keep your associations with each other positive. Ignoring them can be hazardous to your relationships.

Geography: Do you live close to your relatives, or far away? How close? How far? From the information we’ve gathered, geography is the #1 coping strategy for relatives who that are difficult to deal with.

Frequency: You’ve heard it said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and familiarity breeds contempt. How often do you see your relatives?

Geography of course can be one of the variables that influences frequency. The greater the distance, the less the frequency is possible. The less the distance, the more frequent the possible contact time. But regardless of geography, and thanks to the technology of the digital age, you still have to know your magic number on frequency.

In every relationship, there is an optimum number of times, whether in a week, a month, or a year, where you and your relative can both enjoy the relationship. And there is probably a number that represents too much contact, too often.

You want to find the sweet spot that’s just right for both of you. And in this age of multiple methods of communication find the form or combination of forms works best.


Time flies when you’re having fun, and the opposite is also true. Too much time with relatives and some people start getting a little crazy. Not enough time together, other people get crazy. How much time do you spend with your relatives when you get together with them whether it's for a casual dinner, or a formal family event?

What is the magic number of days, hours, and minutes that you can successfully enjoy the relationship before it moves into the Danger Zone?

Though this magic number is important for everyone to know, it is particularly important when there are great geographic distances involved. Because of the expense and logistics involved, there may be a tendency to spend more time together than is optimal for anyone.

To make matters more difficult, when you’re the one who is visiting relatives, you may not have much private space in which to spend some of your time. And when you’re around, your relatives may find it hard to get away too!

The result is often that feeling of being “‘stuck’” with the relatives instead of enjoying the family. There is probably an optimum amount of time for you to enjoy a family visit. Once you cross that magic number of Time, it only takes one of you to drag both of you into the Danger Zone.

That’s why knowing your magic numbers of Geography, Frequency and Time can help you to enjoy the relationship and contribute to the future of it by keeping your associations positive.