“I’m not looking forward to Thanksgiving,” Sid* told me the other day. “My sister-in-law is horrible. She criticizes everything, even my parenting skills. And whenever I call her on it, she acts all innocent, like she hasn’t done anything. Like I’m the crazy one.”
“How am I going to get through the holidays?” Lorna asks. “My brother is awful to be around. He gets drunk, he complains about his life, he blames all of us for not being supportive. It’s really no fun to be there.”
“Every Christmas, it’s the same,” says Joe. “Somehow my parents and I end up at each other’s throats. They always find something to criticize. That I won’t go to Church …that I’m not successful enough in my career…that I’m not married. Eventually I take the bait and attack them right back. For being bossy, critical know-it-alls! It’s miserable. I don’t want to go home this year and deal with all that stress!”
So many people struggle with difficult relationships with their families, and tensions often worsen around the holidays, when families gather.
If you are dreading your family get-together, here are some tips to help you successfully navigate the quickly-approaching holiday season:
First, remember that you can’t change anyone else. Trying to persuade a family member that you are right and they are wrong is unlikely to take you anywhere but down.
Second, you can change yourself. If you find yourself getting pulled toward an argument, do your best to calm yourself so that you can respond thoughtfully instead of reacting in haste and anger. You might find it helpful to take some deep breaths or go for a walk. Aspire not to take it personally when others make remarks that seem hurtful.
Keep in mind that staying calm in a difficult situation is usually hard work.
Third, ask yourself what you can do to improve the situation rather than make it worse. Some potentially-useful questions:
- Do I respect how am I handling myself in this situation?
- Am I subtly jabbing the other person?
- Am I pouring gasoline on the fire, and pretending to myself that I’m not?
- What would it take for me to be my best self here?
Finally, remember that alcohol makes it more difficult to behave thoughtfully.
I wish you a wonderful holiday season. And, if you continue to struggle with difficult family relationships in 2016, feel free to contact me. I will be glad to help you figure out how you can do your best to successfully manage your own behavior in family conflicts.
*All names and identifying details altered in this article.