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  • Writer's pictureKelli Niewhoner

Getting Along With Family: Holiday Edition

The holiday season is often hailed as a time of joy, love, and togetherness. However, for many, it can also be a challenging period, especially when dealing with difficult family members. Whether it's a distant relative who always manages to push your buttons or a sibling with whom you constantly clash, finding ways to navigate these interactions can make the holidays more enjoyable for everyone involved. In this blog post, we'll explore some strategies to help you cope with difficult family members during the festive season.

This season can be challenging for a multitude of reasons, especially if you have to spend several hours with family members that you aren't too excited to be around, and can put a damper on things. We all have someone in our family that we could name that grates on our patience, but how do you still enjoy your holiday when it can be so frustrating? We can't cancel Christmas so, keep reading to find out a few ways that you can still maintain your sanity and some tips to help you deal with 'difficult' family members.

  1. Set Realistic Expectations:

One key to maintaining your sanity during family gatherings is to set realistic expectations. Accept that your family members may not change overnight, and the dynamics may not be picture-perfect. By adjusting your expectations, you'll be better prepared to handle any challenges that arise. In short, this means learning to be accepting of your family member's nuances. You may not like the way that your uncle blows his nose at the dinner table, but setting the expectation that he may do this allows you to mentally prepare for the situation to occur. This doesn't mean fixating on it, but just allowing yourself space to find acceptance with something that is out of your control.

  1. Practice Mindful Communication:

Effective communication is crucial in navigating challenging family relationships. Practice active listening and choose your words carefully. Instead of reacting impulsively to provocation, take a moment to consider your response. Communicate your feelings assertively, using "I" statements to express your perspective without sounding accusatory. This is HARD, especially with family whom you would like to 'give a piece of your mind'. Rather than impulsively taking the bait and getting defensive, you can use an I statement to defuse the situation. For example, Auntie Marge comments that you have gained quite a bit of weight since the last time you talked. You could lash out and yell back some insults or you could say, "I don't feel comfortable discussing this with you, and I would appreciate it if you would no longer make those comments." Easier said than done, but it's worth trying.

  1. Establish Boundaries:

Setting healthy boundaries is essential for maintaining your mental and emotional well-being. Be clear about your limits and communicate them respectfully. If certain topics or behaviors trigger discomfort, kindly but firmly let your family members know your boundaries. This can help create a more respectful and harmonious atmosphere. This ties together with the previous suggestion of practicing mindful communication. It is okay to say no. It is okay to let other people get frustrated. Finally, you don't always have to explain yourself. Setting a boundary will most likely warrant a reaction from the receiving party, but keep reminding yourself that boundaries are what allow us to exercise control over our well-being. Boundaries aren't always fun to set but are necessary to maintain peace of mind.

  1. Focus on the Positive:

While it's easy to get caught up in the negative aspects of family dynamics, consciously shift your focus to the positive aspects. Look for shared interests, common ground, or pleasant memories. Emphasizing positive interactions can help diffuse tension and create a more enjoyable holiday experience. This doesn't mean disregarding past abusive episodes or hurtful interactions with family members, but rather cultivating positive connections with 'safe' family members.

  1. Take Breaks When Needed:

If tensions start to rise, don't hesitate to take a break. Step outside for some fresh

air, find a quiet space to decompress, or engage in an activity that brings you joy. Taking short breaks can prevent escalating conflicts and allow you to regain composure. The holidays can evoke and stir up past drama/ conflict that you previously have put to rest. It's okay to excuse yourself from a conversation or interaction and take some space. The bathroom is a great room to excuse yourself from time to time. You get privacy and space to decompress and gather your bearings once again.

  1. Seek Support:

Remember, you're not alone in facing challenging family dynamics. Reach out to a trusted friend, partner, or even a mental health professional to discuss your feelings and gain valuable insights. Sometimes, just having someone to talk to can provide much-needed perspective and support. Sometimes you just need an outlet; someone that will listen and allow you to process your thoughts and feelings. There's no doubt that a trusted friend, family member, or therapist can help you release some of the tension that may have built up inside.

  1. Cultivate Empathy:

Try to understand your difficult family member's perspective, even if you don't agree with it. Empathy can help diffuse tension and pave the way for more meaningful conversations. Remember that everyone has their struggles, and approaching interactions with empathy can foster a more compassionate atmosphere. This is probably the hardest one to do. It's hard to see other people's viewpoints and deem them valid; it takes practice and a whole lot of understanding. Also, this doesn't mean agreeing with your family member to avoid confrontation. It's more about agreeing to disagree and being okay with sharing different viewpoints. It's also important to know that your family members may not reciprocate the empathy that you give them. It's about allowing yourself to be at peace rather than fighting to be right.


The holiday season should be a time of joy and connection, and with these strategies, you can navigate challenging family dynamics with grace. By setting realistic expectations, practicing mindful communication, establishing boundaries, focusing on the positive, taking breaks when needed, seeking support, and cultivating empathy, you can create a more harmonious and enjoyable holiday experience for yourself and your family. We are wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season ahead.


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