The holidays can be tough when dealing with family. It can feel like the same tough topics and emotions come up time and time again.
Relationship coach Val Baldwin has some tips to spend time with difficult family members.
“All of us have at least one ‘Nosy Aunt Nelda’ or ‘Cranky Cousin Carl.’ The first step is to realize there’s nothing you can do to change these people. However, you can plan ahead to minimize the difficulty,” says Val.
Here are Val’s 5 strategies for dealing with relatives:
Strategy 1: Plan ahead on what your conversation boundaries are
Decide what conversations you are willing to have and know the ones you want to avoid. If someone brings up a topic that you don’t want to discuss simply state plainly and calmly that you don’t wish to discuss it. Respond by saying “I’m not comfortable talking about this topic Uncle John. But let me tell you about this great new restaurant I just tried. You can smoothly change the conversation to a light topic. Plan ahead with alternatives topics and that will really help.
Strategy 2: Plan activities
Downtime can bring out the worst in difficult relatives. Your holidays will run more smoothly if you have plenty of activities to fill gaps and keep everyone occupied if you need them. If the main event is at your house, look for opportunities to get people involved. It could be playing board games, charades, or decorating cookies. It’s even better if you can get people outside for a few hours to play basketball or build a snowman.
If you are going to someone else’s house, offer to bring a few activities.
Strategy 3: Plan an arrival and exit time beforehand and make it clear
Plan an entry and exit time as well as a date for yourself if you are going to someone else’s house. Do the same if the group is coming to your house. Do not leave entry and exit dates or times up to chance with relatives who tend to overstay their welcome. For example, “Matt and I would like to invite you over for Thanksgiving. We are asking that everyone arrives between 11:00 and noon on Thursday so that gives us enough time to get everything ready. We’re also planning a big brunch on Fridaybefore everyone leaves. Matt and I have been invited to a (fill in the blank) on Friday afternoon and we need to be out of the house no later than 1:30pm. Will that work for you?” This is polite, respectful but lets your guests know your boundaries and expectations.
Strategy 4: Plan your response to the annoying question that always comes up
If your sister-in-law always asks you the same nosy question like “You’ve been dating Mark for sooooo long. When are you getting engaged?” Or “When are you going to have another baby?” A simple response of “When the time is right” will do just fine.
Strategy 5: Plan on giving yourself an important job
Another way to escape from uncomfortable situations with difficult relatives is to give yourself an important job. For example, decide that you’re going to be the official family photographer this year. Go around catching family members doing funny things. This gives you the perfect excuse to not get involved in any unwanted conversation or awkward situation. You can just excuse yourself and remind them you have a job to do – take pictures! You can all share a good laugh by looking at the photos at the next holiday gathering. Or you can be the person in charge of setting the table, or running to the store for last minute food items. Do whatever it is you have to do to keep busy, while still continuing to interact with family.
The reality is, there are no tricks that can make unbearable family members suddenly bearable. You can’t change them. The change must come from you and how you react and deal with these challenges. Allow the challenge of dealing with difficult relatives this holiday season to motivate you on to be a better, stronger and wiser person.