Typically, the holidays translate to the question of how to deal with all the family gatherings successfully? Whether you share a healthy relationship with your relatives or not, there's always a bit of inevitable drama, because that's what families are for. We've all endured the annual family argument either with a sibling, cousin, aunt, uncle, or significant other. It usually seems to stem from an offputting comment or a snide remark that sets someone off. Since family doesn't always hold back, these smaller scuffles can turn into a much bigger affair. Unfortunately, this is an extremely common routine for many family gatherings, but it doesn't have to be that way.
In order to keep the peace or even enhance your relationships with loved ones, we enlisted an expert Mara Krotec Baginski, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to share her advice for spending the season conflict-free. Find her tips for how to handle your family during the holidays below.
Create a Plan
In order to avoid tension and arguments, it's best to come into the situation prepared. Plan to communicate to your family that you may not be able to spend the entire time at the family event. This is especially true if you need to split time between your family and your partner’s. If you make your plans clear to everyone in advance, you'll avoid confrontation. (For instance, if you know your partner doesn’t get along with your uncle, limit the time they will have to spend together. Some people never will get along, and that is okay, but you cannot force the issue.)
Set Secure Boundaries
There are two main types of boundaries that are necessary: emotional and physical. In the case of emotional boundaries, communication is key. Explain to your family members that discussing a subject makes you feel uncomfortable. If you make it known, you will likely be able to change the topic in a respectful way. The best way to do this is to turn to something positive or inquire about the family member or person you're speaking with in a caring way.
For physical boundaries, respecting yourself and your partner is extremely important. You may have a certain relative you or your partner finds difficult. Be proactive and limit the amount of time you spend with this relative, as this will help you avoid conflict.
Avoid Controversial Topics
There is a valid reason people say you should not discuss religion and politics; these topics are rarely agreed upon by all family members or a large group and therefore can cause tension. While it's important to respect another person's point of view, it's best to avoid these areas altogether as to not stir up conflict in an unnecessary setting. The holidays are a time to be grateful and appreciate the people, especially loved ones, in your life, so if you go into a situation with a positive mind-set, you'll likely be able to get along with everyone and keep the peace.
Bottom line: It is best to avoid discussing religion, politics, and finances. Period.
Keep It Positive
Though you should try to avoid the aforementioned controversial topics, you may need to be prepared to handle a situation should they inevitably arise. There are a few key points to keeping things light and enjoyable with a family setting. One is by discussing positive aspects of your life and your relatives without dwelling on past arguments on situations that were less fortunate. Try congratulating your family members for positive accomplishments and letting them know you are proud to be their relative. Small positive praises can go a long way and neutralize a negative situation quickly. It also helps to discuss positive aspects of your life and what you are looking forward to in the New Year.
Be aware not to compare. Don’t get trapped in the my kids, house, job, etc. are better than yours mentality. Being judgmental will only foster a negative environment, and it can be avoided if you are aware of your words and actions.
Shop a few of our favorite necessities for handling the holidays with family successfully.
Writing down your thoughts so you can reflect on them before you speak can help resolve family issues before the start.
Investing in a good pair of headphones to drown out the chaos is always a good idea when spending the holidays with family.
Retire to a quiet place with a good book to avoid unnecessary drama.
Be sure to get a good night's sleep with a silk sleep mask.