10 Tips On How to Deal With Difficult Relatives This Holiday Season

Family gathered around a dinner table.

The holidays are right upon us with Christmas just around the corner. Many of us have made plans to meet with our relatives and celebrate, but, unfortunately, many of us find these yearly holiday traditions more stressful than joyful.

Although we may be tied by our genes, sometimes that’s all we have in common with some of our relatives. Our differences can become especially pronounced when we’re all gathered in one room, expectations of perfection and happiness wafting through the air along with Aunty Muriel’s whiskey breath.

But it doesn’t have to be all bad. Although our families can often make us wish we were adopted, there are ways to keep a cool, level head and slide right through the holidays without any altercations.

Below I’ve compiled a list of tips to help you deal with stressful relatives this holiday season.

1. Have realistic expectations.

Sometimes we might feel inclined to romanticize the holidays and to hope that the magic that fills the season may touch some of our more difficult relatives’ hearts. In an ideal world, the spirit of Christmas would be enough to make the world a better place. Sadly, that just doesn’t happen outside of a Hallmark movie. If Aunty Muriel’s been hitting the booze and judging you at the Christmas gathering for the last twenty years, then she’s probably not going to stop now. Accept this reality and do your best to not let her get under your skin.

2. The hits they take at you say more about them than about you.

If you know that you’ve worked hard this year, and you know your own worth, then Aunty Muriel’s salty remarks shouldn’t have an effect, no matter how hard she tries. Try to stay above it all by reminding yourself that the jabs she takes at you say more about her than they do about you. People who are happy with their lives have no need to bring others down. Let Aunty Muriel be her usual miserable self and keep holding your head high. You don’t need her or anyone’s approval to know your own worth.

3. Take bathroom breaks.

It’s all bound to be too much at some point, and that’s perfectly fine. After all, you’re only human. Holding your tongue all night, and trying to be the better person is harder work than anyone ever gives anyone credit for. Remember that you can always excuse yourself for a bathroom break. Take a few minutes to yourself, gather your thoughts, take a few deep breaths, maybe splash some water on your face, and, once you feel good and ready, head out again. Take as long as you like and as many breaks as you need. It’s nobody’s business what you do in there anyway.

4. Focus on the positives.

In spite of unpleasant relatives trying to gnaw at our insecurities and making an otherwise perfectly fine evening uncomfortable, there are still a lot of things to look forward to. It’s helpful to remember that an uncomfortable situation can often be fixed by small changes in perspective. Yes, Aunty Muriel has been keen on pointing out the five pounds you gained since your divorce. But, if the price to pay for a taste of grandma’s cooking and some friendly gossiping with your beloved cousin equals to few moments a year of Aunty Muriel’s intrusive commentary, then so be it. Accept the negatives, let them be what they are, and focus on the positives.

5. Plan ahead and strategize.

The date and place have been set. Once you know you have this family reunion coming up, and you’re going to see people there that are going to make the evening uncomfortable, then it’s best to be prepared. You can decide to be cordial and still keep your distance from said people for the rest of the evening. If it’s someone with whom you’ve had an altercation before, chances are they might try to keep some space between the two of you as well. If it’s someone whom you might not be able to avoid, it can help to prepare some retorts to their intrusive questions and shady commentary ahead of time.

6. Remember to laugh.

If your previous dispute wasn’t too grave, it’s not a bad strategy to make light of it. Humor is a great way to break the ice, to let the other person know you’re ready to let go and are open to new discussions. When it comes to Aunty Muriel and her nosy questions and comments, it can help to make light of the topic she’s bringing up. Once she realizes this topic she found sensitive is actually funny to you, she’ll lose interest. She’ll then find another target and you’ll be free. (Make sure to point Aunty Muriel’s new victim to this article so they can read these tips and be prepared, too! *wink*)

7. Call them out on their lousy behavior.

In the end, maybe you just want to spend a nice evening with family and friends, but if Aunty Muriel is making that difficult for you, maybe it’s time to call her out on it. Sure, you don’t wanna make a scene or ruin anyone’s night. But one uncomfortable moment one Christmas night, in exchange for many more holidays and family celebrations in which Aunty Muriel learns to keep her mouth shut, might just be worth it. Handle it in the most composed, civilized manner that you can, and Aunty Muriel will find it hard to argue back.

8. Let go of the past.

If you feel ready — and only if you feel ready — maybe it’s time to let go of the animosity you feel towards that relative you had that bitter argument with last year. Of course, it’s always optimal to forgive and start anew. There’s nothing like letting go of an old grudge and feeling the weight of all that negativity leave your body. By all means, approach that person with the best intentions in a show of peace. However, if in the end, the other person remains standoffish, do not take this to heart. It’s possible they’re simply just not ready yet to move forward and that’s alright. Know that at least you’ve taken a sincere first step into making things right again and just leave things where they are.

9. Make an early exit.

If you feel absolutely obligated to attend a family affair that you just don’t want to go to — maybe because you have kids who are excited and can’t wait to see their grandma, or because your beloved favorite cousin has begged you to ride it out with her — there’s no reason why you need to stay for the entire duration of the event. Make up an excuse as to why you’re going to be late, or why you have to leave early. If it’s important that you show up, do so, but don’t stay all day or all night. Decide for yourself how much time you’re willing to spend at this family reunion. Then, strategize on how to ensure you don’t stay one second longer than you have to.

10. Start your own new traditions.

Sometimes the anxiety and the dread of having to be around certain people is just too much and just not worth it. Forget the social obligation, the “what will they say if I don’t show up?” Just don’t go or don’t host. No one should be forced to sit in an uncomfortable situation. Don’t force yourself to do anything you’re uncomfortable with simply out of a sense of responsibility. Tradition should be fun, not a chore. Why not start your own traditions? Be a trailblazer. Maybe suggest that someone else host this year. Go somewhere new, or just choose to do something different. Begin your own tradition where you don’t need to be forced to spend your holidays surrounded by people you’d rather not be around.

Feel it out and see what works best for you. There’s enough tension in the world every other day of the year. You should get to enjoy the holidays, to stretch your legs, laugh for a moment, and forget the topsy-turvy world outside. Choose the best course of action and remember: the holidays are what you make them, not what society dictates they should be. In the end, whatever the season may bring, may you find peace through it all.

Editor @ The Intuitive Desk (theintuitivedesk.com)| Book Reviews Editor @ Paperback Paris | Writer

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store