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Dealing with Difficult Relatives During the Holidays

We probably have a story to tell about some odd duck in our family that seems to make the holidays a little hard to get through. Whether it is your uncle who maybe had a little too much to drink, or your young sister who talks about her love life in a little to much detail. Or maybe grandma gives you compliments, but they are veiled criticism of one kind or another.

As much as you might not want to send holiday invitations to these people, resist the urge and try to enjoy the season with them along for the ride. After all, the holidays only come around once a year, and it is only a few days that you have to deal with it. During this time it is a good idea just to accept the reality of your relatives and enjoy what you can, so that by January 10 or so, your life can resume regular activity. Below are few tips and techniques to get through this wonderful, yet challenging time of the year.

Mental Strategies

If you are going to successfully keep your cool, you need to learn to play mental defense. Too often we get the Norman Rockwell picture of the holidays into our minds and think that our holiday festivities will be just like that, but these situations are not real. Often, the people portraying the perfect holiday gathering were paid to look happy. So, it is important to first realize that this is not reality and it will probably never be.

Second, keep in mind that your relatives are just people you are related to, thus you have to spend time with them at various times during the year. This doesn’t mean that they have to be your friends or people that you would normally choose to be around. With family, you may love them, but you don’t have to necessarily like them.

Third, it is a good idea to maintain civility no matter what. The last thing you want is to make the family gathering worse, because so and so got into a fight with so and so over something that has been festering for months, maybe even since last Christmas.

Lastly, recognize that bad holidays need a little bit of recovery time. After all the relatives have left and you have a chance to breath once more, don’t immediately go telling your friend about the awful time you had. For one, they will not understand fully and so will think that you are exaggerating, making you even more frustrated. Instead of being vocal about it, try writing your feelings in a journal, that way the journal can’t talk back and you can write everything down that has been bothering you for the last week or so.

Physical Strategies

After you have successfully prepared yourself mentally for the worst, it is important to play a strategic physical defense.

Often, downtime is when bad situations come up. You will find that your holidays run more smoothly if you plan plenty of activities to fill the gaps of time. It is a good idea to not just rely on the television to fix this problem, there are only so many shows and it can’t last a full 24 hours. So, make a plan. You don’t have to do everything that you’ve planned, but have many in a reserve bank that you can pull from whenever needed. If the relatives are at your house, look for opportunities to get them involved with the festivities, whether it is cooking, decorating, etc.

Next, it is a good idea to plan a concrete entry and exit time for your guests. You can tell your guests to arrive at a specific time and have them leave at a specific time. Leaving is the hard one here. To make it easier, plan a date for you and your spouse and tell your guests that you have to leave no later than 6:30 for example. This way guests that tend to overstay their welcome will leave right on time because you set a deadline.

Shift the Focus to Others

The third holiday coping strategy is to shift the focus of conversation to others that are in attendance at your get together. Although this may seem like you are going backwards in coping, try to invite more people to the party. By having 50 guests instead of 20, it is less likely that a singular person will be picked on or run the party. There is less opportunity for your younger sister to brag about her boyfriend to 50 people as opposed to 20.

Another idea to is have the topic of conversations focus on the kids. Little kids usually don’t understand the weird dynamics that may have developed in the family, so talking about them gives you and the listener a common ground that is safe to walk on.

Lastly, Family celebrations aren’t going to go away, they are just a part of our cultural calendar. They may not always be happy, but we can find ways to make them bearable. The more you can mentally and physically minimize the impact of relatives, the less stressed out and strung out you will be, which will make getting back to a normal routine much easier. Now that you have the tools, you are ready to approach the battle front. Happy Holidays.