Home for the Holidays: How to Get Along with Relatives that Drive You Nuts
When you were a kid, you were probably too caught up in the holiday magic to notice any tension between the grown-ups. Now that you’re older, you may be more attuned to your grandma’s passive aggression, your uncle’s inappropriate comments, or your cousin’s blatant insults. Whether you have a family member that means well but just rubs people the wrong way, or if there are some deep-rooted issues from conflicts, abuse, alcoholism, or infidelity, family gatherings don’t always feel joyous or magical.
So what can a person do to enjoy holiday get-togethers with people they can’t stand?
1. Manage expectations
Family togetherness is not always comfortable; it can be difficult to get along with people who have different personalities, viewpoints, and ways of handling conflict. If you’re expecting your family gathering to feel like a Hallmark special, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Try to release any expectations you have of your family members’ words or behaviors. Remember that you cannot control the actions of others, but you can control how you choose to react.
2. Identify your buttons
You may not be able to prevent your relatives from doing upsetting things, but you can reduce the odds of situations escalating out of control. Think back to things that have set off drama in the past and do your best to avoid them. Does drinking one too many shots, talking about religion or politics, or staying longer than a few hours seem to push your buttons? If so, do your best to consciously avoid those situations.
3. Make spirits bright & conversations light
Maybe you can’t talk to your grandpa about guns without someone dropping F-bombs and storming out of the room. Even if you want to advocate for your beliefs, holiday gatherings are not the best environment to debate tense issues. Let that be a conversation for another day and try to find common ground over lighter topics such as sports teams, hobbies, electronics, fashion trends, or TV shows.
4. Reminisce and reconnect
A great way to reconnect with family members that you’ve been distanced from is to focus on memories that make you feel nostalgic. Even if some of your family members aren’t your cup of tea, you may have fond memories that you share together. Talk about the time your dog stole the Christmas ham or dust off that old photo album for a walk down memory lane. Reflect on positive and humorous experiences that you shared with each person.
5. Take the high road
Whether you’re dealing with an alcoholic parent, judgmental in-law, or fat-shaming cousin, try your best to take the high road when they act inappropriately. This does NOT mean you need to accept unacceptable behavior; if things get ugly, walk away calmly and don’t engage in fueling the fire. Spewing insults or throwing mashed potatoes may come back to haunt you but acting mature and collected when others act out will only paint you in a positive light.
6. Call a confidante
Think of a person you can turn to if you are feeling at your wit’s end. Venting to a friend is healthier than letting your emotions boil up inside - or worse – boiling over at the dinner table. It may be wise to choose a friend as your confidante rather than another family member. You wouldn’t want your cousin to spill the beans to Great Aunt Edna about how annoying you think she is.
7. Take care of yourself
Self-care is important year-round, but many people neglect themselves during the holiday rush. Take time for yourself before, during, and after family get-togethers. Go for a walk and reflect on aspects that bring your life joy. Practice mindfulness by appreciating the present moment – the sights, smells, and tastes of the holidays. When you feel yourself dwelling on past family drama or worrying about the future, center your mind back to the present moment. Recharging your batteries will help you enjoy time with your family much more.
8. Be the light
While you should manage your expectations and prepare for the worst, try not to go into the holidays with a negative or resentful attitude. Break the tension by being friendly and positive to the family members you can’t stand or aren’t close with. Remember, the feelings of dread may be mutual and having you extend the olive branch by being warm and polite might be enough to ease some of the tension between you. By staying positive and accepting of others, your good vibes will likely rub off on those around you.
9. Seek Support
You may be thinking, “but you don’t know my family’s crazy-level! I can’t imagine ever getting past the things they did!” Depending on your family’s unique history and circumstances, the thought of applying these strategies may seem impossible, but there is hope. Our team at Variations specializes in helping families through some of life’s most difficult challenges. Our specialists can get to know your family’s unique story and empower you with tools to get through the holidays peacefully and drama-free.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. If you are concerned about your family’s well-being, Dr. Shinn can support you and your children in taking care of your emotional health needs.
Cynthia R. Johnson, LMFT,is a specialist in Parenting and Child Therapy at Variations Psychology. She has years of experience in supporting families through challenges while strengthening their relationships.
Dr. Daniella A. Davis, Psy.D., is an expert in dealing with the unique challenges that women face throughout each stage of life. If you are a woman struggling to get along or connect with family members that push your buttons, Dr. Davis can help.
Dr. Christopher J. Sample, Psy.D. specializes in supporting men and teenage boys through life’s transitions. Dr. Sample provides a comfortable place for men to overcome family challenges and gain the tools for leading successful and fulfilling lives.
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How to Cite This Blog Article:
Shinn, M.M. (2018). Home for the Holidays: How to Get Along with Relatives that Drive You Nuts.
Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/home-for-the-holidays-how-to-get-along-with-relatives-that-drive-you-nuts