Do You Have Difficult Family Members? A Therapist Explains How to Deal with Them During the Holidays

You can still enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah, even if you don't see eye to eye with everyone in the room.

The holidays are supposed to be a special moment to spend quality time with loved ones making memories, eating delicious food, and exchanging sentimental gifts. (It's the most wonderful time of the year, right?) But sometimes, the holiday season can lead to sticky situations with family. Maybe you don't see eye to eye when it comes to politics with your uncle, or perhaps you're not a huge fan of your sister's husband, or maybe you and your mom had an argument that you haven't sorted out. And now, you're going to be gathered with that family member and the rest of your kin, and you're concerned about how the evening is going to go. "I think we have this picture that family needs to be close-knit and get along together," says Colleen Blake-Miller, a registered psychotherapist in Toronto, Canada. "Not every family gets along. It's not a bad thing; it's just a real thing."

mother and daughter speaking during a Christmas dinner
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How to Deal with Difficult Family Members During the Holidays

With Thanksgiving just a few weeks away, and Hanukkah celebrations and Christmas festivities coming shortly after (unless your Canadian like Blake-Miller and already enjoyed Canadian Thanksgiving), you have some time to go over these tips and prepare for the upcoming events.

1. Plan Ahead

Like just about every situation in life, planning can change the entire experience. "Think of what you have control over, like arrival time, your attitude, and discussions," Blake-Miller explains. When you arrive, you could say that you have a certain time to leave by, so when things get sticky, you have an exit strategy. For example, if someone asks you an uncomfortable question, decide how you're going to react. "You could shift out of the discussion, share a thought without taking a position, or exit the room," she says. Also, think about how you want to spend your time at the event and what you want to talk about. Blake-Miller recommends practicing saying phrases and making actions when you hypothetically find yourself in an awkward situation before the event. For example, when touchy subjects like having kids, being single, or buying a house come up, say you're not comfortable with the conversation and move on. "Set boundaries," Blake-Miller says. "Without them, you let people walk over you." Also, having a buddy (like a significant other or someone you can trust) who understands your situation and will back you up can be a great help.

Colleen Blake-Miller

"Set boundries. Without them, you let people walk over you."

— Colleen Blake-Miller

2. Check in with Yourself

When you come up with your strategy for the evening, take a step back to think about the real reason you're attending the event. "You have to know yourself and the pros and cons," Blake-Miller says. Sometimes, when one person in the family is problematic, everyone in the group understands, so it's uncomfortable for a few hours, but you move on quickly. "For the most part, it's a them situation, not a you," Blake-Miller explains. However, in other instances, she says that you need to think, "Is this person going to disrupt my peace long-term? If you're being targeted, isolated, and you're going to be negatively affected, don't go," she says. It will be well worth your self-preservation to miss the event.

3. Let People Be Who They Are (That Includes You!)

Realistically, when you and a loved one don't agree on a subject, you're not going to change each other's minds, and you're going to have to accept that. "Release the expectations of what people are like," Blake-Miller says. "Allow people to be who they are. Allow ourselves to be who we are. We don't get along with everyone; it's normal."

She encourages maintaining perspective throughout the holiday season. "Holidays are once a year for a few hours. Then you get back to your amazing life," Blake-Miller says. Following her tips will help you enjoy your upcoming events, even if you're not thrilled with the guest list.

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