6 Tips on Dealing With Difficult Family Members During the Holidays



Let’s face it. The holidays are fun, but sometimes we are forced to interact with family we don’t necessarily adore. Whether you are flying home to be with family or hosting your closest relatives in your space, the truth is you will be spending extended time with people whom you might see once or maybe twice over the course of the year. If there are any unresolved emotions from a previous visit or there are lingering wounds from childhood, the holiday is the worst time to engage in trial-by-fire family therapy. This is also your vacation time and a chance to enjoy all the goodness of relaxing, cooking, playing board games and watching your favorite movie. Don’t fall into the drama. Here are 6 tips on dealing with difficult family during the holidays: 

1. Breathe: Before you decide to engage by yelling or snapping, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Is it worth it to become upset?” When there is tension between two people it impacts the entire holiday gathering. By saying something you regret, you will not only spoil it for yourself, but for all family members who are spending their vacation time and are traveling to meet for the holidays. It isn’t just about you, but the entire group. 

2. Focus on the positives: Try to find what you do enjoy about the gathering  – whether it’s relaxing on the couch, devouring the feast or catching up with those family members with whom you have a good relationship. There are plenty of distractions available so you can avoid a confrontation or scene during your brief time together.

3. Prepare: If you expect a certain relative to make a slight, write down a few answers beforehand, so you don’t respond in anger. Phrases like, “I am sorry you feel that way,” or “I don’t think today is the best day to discuss these matters,” or “Let’s talk over the phone when we return home so our conversation is private,” will help temper the conversation. With these handy answers, you’re less likely to say something you will regret. Your calm response may send an even stronger message – you aren’t willing to discuss personal and complicated matters in front of others. 

4. Create boundaries: If you know a certain family member doesn’t bring out the best in you, try to create boundaries. Be cordial and respectful, but realize you don’t have to be alone in the room and pretend to “like” this relative. There’s nothing wrong with artfully avoiding a confrontation.

5. Practice gratitude: Divert your attention to all of the people and activities you enjoy during the holidays. It might help to keep a gratitude journal while you are spending time with your relatives to keep an active reminder about all the good moments you are experiencing.

6. Exercise: When you want to escape tension, instead of arguing or moping, enjoy the outdoors. Go for a walk, sit in the park or play games with the kids and family. Taking time away from a situation is the best way to regroup, relax and diffuse hurt feelings. 

How do you deal with difficult relatives during the holidays?

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Rudri Patel
Rudri Bhatt Patel is a former attorney turned freelancer writer. Prior to attending law school, she graduated with an M.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing. She is the managing editor for The First Day and her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Brain, Child, The Huffington Post, The Review, Review Role, Reboot, The Mid and elsewhere. She writes her personal musings on her blog, Being Rudri, and is currently working on a memoir that explores Hindu culture, grief and appreciating life’s ordinary graces. She enjoys reading, writing and running. Rudri has lived in the Valley since 2009 with her husband and daughter (9). You can find Rudri on Twitter, Facebook and Being Rudri.


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