Tis the season for celebrating our blessings, eating holiday delights and spending time with family.
Sometimes, that third part can be a bit of a challenge.
While we love our family members, we don’t always like what they do or say. At best, grudges, disputes and personality conflicts can make family holiday celebrations somewhat tense. At worst, they can crush your festive spirit and hurt you mentally.
So, what can you do to deal with it? After all, you don’t want to insult other family members or your in-laws by not showing up. How can you cope and avoid the drama?
Here are a few tips:
Limit alcohol consumption and availability. While the first drink might ease the strain, the second, third and fourth one will lower inhibitions – a primer for arguments. Local police say that most domestic disputes on Christmas Day usually are usually fueled by too much alcohol.
Keep your cool like the winter weather outside. Yes, this is easier said than done. But counselors recommend preparing yourself for possible criticisms and to avoid overreactions. Don’t take every comment so seriously. Accept that some things are not always meant as (poorly) said or presented.
Know when to show, and know when to go. Who says you have to spend the entire day with the all of the family? The longer you are in the uncomfortable environment, the more exposure for potential discourse. Maybe you can visit family that doesn’t get along for an hour or two on Christmas Eve; and then spend Christmas Day with family members who like one another. Also, trust your instincts. If you are at a family member’s home and feel the pressure building, politely thank your host and exit the party gracefully. If you are hosting the event, you can limit the potential for issues by stating the start and end times in the invitation.
Contain and control the conversation. Keep the talk shallow. This was an extraordinarily divisive election year. Don’t bring up the presidential election or the subsequent fallout. If someone comments about the president-elect, brush it off and start talking about sports. Avoid any discussion of social issues, religion or family finances. Sidestep questions about how much you paid for your new car. It doesn’t take much kerosene to roil that fire.
Gauge your gifts carefully. This might seem strange, but spending a little more on a family gift is not always deeply appreciated. If there are underlying family tensions about money, an expensive gift – while well-meaning – could be viewed as condescending or bragging. A simple gift or gesture might be better received.
Focus on the positive. Your body language can either diffuse or sharpen the tension. If you concentrate on the good parts of the holiday gathering (food, people you genuinely like, the children), you are more likely to smile and speak with a positive voice. Your good mood might lift up the rest of the family.
Take deep breaths. When you feel the hair standing up on the back of your neck or your blood pressure rising, pause and breathe. Bring yourself under control, and remember that this is not the time to address conflicts. You can vent later by talking to your partner or the dog after you go home.
If you feel you need help dealing with family before or during the holidays, click here for resources.