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7 Tips for Connecting with Difficult Family Members over the Holidays

7 Tips for Connecting with Difficult Family Members over the Holidays


The holidays are fast approaching, which means more time spent with all types of family members. While getting together with family over the holidays can bring joy and good cheer, some family members are sometimes easier to get along with than others. 

Looking for ways to actually experience the holiday cheer when spending time with family? Here you’ll find seven simple strategies to connect with difficult family members this holiday season. 

1. Let Go of Your Expectations

It can be easy to get lost in fantasies of perfect family holiday gatherings. As lovely as it would be to have the picture-perfect holiday, most families are far from perfect, and letting go of your expectations can be hugely beneficial. Don’t expect difficult family members to be any different this holiday season than they have in the past. You can maintain a connection with these family members by keeping things simple. Avoid too much contact, observing these family members rather than interacting; spend time instead with family members you actually like. 

2. Do Your Best to Focus on the Positive

If you go into the holidays thinking about how stressful they’re going to be, the way you feel about certain members of your family could be worse by the time of the actual gathering. Do your best to focus on the positive side of getting together for the holidays. And when that difficult family member crosses your path, think about what you like about them, rather than what you can’t stand. By focusing on the positive, you’ll keep stress levels low, which can help considerably with easygoing interactions. 

3. Gracefully Stand Your Ground

Whether it’s negative or passive-aggressive remarks about your appearance, sexual orientation, parenting style or political affiliation, some family members don’t always have the nicest things to say. Gracefully standing your ground about who you are and what you believe in can help to keep conversations from getting out of control. You might say something like, “While we might not see things the same way, let’s put that aside and focus on having a happy holiday.” Or, “I know you think I should be more [blank] and I can appreciate where you’re coming from; I’d rather just enjoy our time together today.” If that doesn’t make them ease up, politely excuse yourself from the situation. 

4. Understand the Only Thing You Can Control Is Your Reaction

You can’t control the way difficult family members act, but you can control the way you react to them. Whether someone in the family is constantly criticizing you or other family members, asks inappropriate questions, or is just straight rude, remember you can control your reaction to what they say. Rather than letting their words get under your skin, choose to change the subject or walk away if they insist on keeping up the negative banter. 

5. Take Time for Self-Care

One of the best ways to connect with difficult family members during the holidays is to connect with yourself. Make sure you carve out plenty of room for self-care, whether taking a time-out in the middle of a gathering to focus on some deep breathing exercises or a five-minute meditation in a quiet room, engaging in gentle yoga poses to help you relax before spending time with family, using essential oils or excusing yourself for a mid-afternoon nap.   

6. Don’t Overindulge 

While a glass of wine or a couple cocktails might help you relax enough to manage hanging out with difficult family members, having too much to drink could have the opposite effect. Keeping your alcohol intake to a minimum can help you maintain better self-control and decrease the likelihood you might say something you may regret later. Also do what you can to keep minimal contact with difficult family members who have had too much to drink.

7. Excuse Yourself from Potentially Upsetting Interactions

Sometimes the best way to connect is to avoid difficult connections. It can be better to build healthy boundaries with difficult family members by excusing yourself from interactions you know might upset you. You can also choose to say no to joining in holiday activities or get-togethers that you’re not comfortable attending. Avoiding connections or exchanges with certain family members doesn’t mean you don’t care about them, it means you care enough about yourself to protect your inner peace while also keeping the family peace. 

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