Relationships

How To Deal With Difficult Family Members During The Holidays And Still Enjoy The Season

By Gina Florio
·  6 min read
holiday family
Shutterstock

It's the most wonderful time of the year when see family members and friends that you haven't spent time with in months. While this can be a fun, rewarding experience, that doesn't mean it never gets hard. Here are some tips to help you deal with difficult loved ones during the holiday season.

We're living in a strange time when things are more politically charged than ever before, and it's all too common to get into an argument with a friend or even an acquaintance about something related to politics. This is even more pronounced during the holiday season when you spend time with family members who you don't align with politically. It's all too easy to fight with a cousin or wacky aunt about a sensitive topic like immigration or abortion. But even if you don't talk politics with your family, it's inevitable to run into a family member during the holidays that is difficult to get along with, whether it's your mother, your in-laws, or an estranged sibling.

Sharing a room with a difficult family member can go so far as ruining your entire Thanksgiving or Christmas, but if you know you're about to face some animosity during the holidays, there are ways to prepare for it that will help neutralize the situation instead of making things worse. Toxic family members can feel impossible to deal with, and it can be especially frustrating to have to constantly be the bigger person, but the holiday season is the one time of year when you want peace above all else. So here are some tips to handle difficult family members during the holidays.

Prepare Yourself Mentally and Emotionally

The only way to successfully deal with family members is to walk into the situation with a clear head and sound mind. This is way easier said than done, but there are many ways you can equip yourself emotionally. First of all, don't go into a family gathering feeling stressed and anxious. The best way to ward off unwanted stress is to meditate (or pray) and do deep breathing regularly. If you know you have a family event coming up in a few weeks, set an alarm on your phone every day to have some silent time for yourself. This time could be spent just sitting with your eyes closed and doing deep belly breathing. It doesn't have to be complicated. You'd actually be surprised at how easy it is to manage stress as long as you create a routine for yourself.

Sharing a room with a difficult family member can go so far as ruining your entire Thanksgiving or Christmas.

If there are certain family members you have a past with, it helps to talk it out with someone before you know you have to see that person. For example, if you have a strained relationship with your mother-in-law, sit down with a close friend, your own mother, or even a therapist and talk about all the challenges you experience with your in-law. Just talking it out in an honest, private space with someone you trust can help you get some stuff off your chest that you didn't even know you were holding onto. This will help you arrive at your holiday event with a clearer mind, as if a burden has been lifted off your shoulders. You may even find that talking it out with someone helps you get rid of some of the built-up resentment you have toward your mother-in-law.

Set Clear Boundaries for Yourself

There's nothing wrong with setting boundaries for yourself. If there are certain conversations that you just don't want to approach with family members, you have every right to tell them that you don't want to talk about these things if they come up. For example, if your nosy aunt inquires more than once about why you don't have any children yet, there's nothing wrong with saying that it's something you don't feel comfortable talking about. As long as you say it with a genuine smile on your face and speak to her with respect, you have nothing to feel guilty about.

There's nothing wrong with setting boundaries for yourself.

Another way to set boundaries for yourself is to take it easy with alcohol and choose carefully who you sit next to at the family dinner. Creating the right environment for yourself is much more useful than using self-discipline or willpower. If there are toxic family members that you don't normally get along with, there's nothing wrong with creating a little bit of healthy distance between yourselves. And if you stay relatively sober throughout the evening, you won't have to worry about your inhibitions completely leaving you and allowing something inappropriate to slip from your lips.

Revert to Humor Whenever You Can

It takes a secure person to be able to steer a tense conversation away from the serious topics and instead crack a joke to lighten the mood. Toxic people are holding onto a lot of anger and bitterness, which is why they're so hell-bent on arguing with their family about the most minute things. If you feel like the conversation is taking an ugly turn, find a way to make everyone laugh, even if it's at your own expense.

Laughter is one of the most universal languages that unites people in even the most awkward times. Keep the conversation light and funny as much as you can, and let go of the need to have the last word. You can either try to "win" a conversation, which will only open the door for more animosity and discomfort, or you put your ego aside and make light of the situation in order to make the experience better for everyone in the room.

Laughter is one of the most universal languages that unites people in even the most awkward times.

Avoid the Topics You Know Will Cause a Stir

You know which topics are off-limits. If you have difficult family members who are triggered by political conversations, avoid the conversation altogether. As soon as you anticipate someone bringing up a politically charged topic, change the subject and engage people in another way. A surefire way to deal with difficult people is to set up the environment so you don't risk falling into a heated conversation that will likely end with people getting upset and hurling insults at one another. The Thanksgiving table shouldn't be the place to argue about universal healthcare.

Instead, make it the place where you learn about one another. Ask your family members about what's been going on in their lives and what they're most interested in. Another foolproof way to avoid difficult conversations is to ask your family members to tell their favorite memories or childhood stories so you can reminisce about old times. Nostalgia is always a safe bet!

Closing Thoughts

Sometimes the best thing to tell yourself in holiday family situations is, you don't have to prove anything to anyone. Be okay with not having the last word or not having to defend yourself and your life choices. Go into the holidays with the purpose of spreading love and joy, and even if your difficult family members throw you a few curveballs, you're equipped to be the bigger person and create an enjoyable environment for everyone, including yourself.