Holidays with Difficult People/Relatives

About this time every year, we get excited for the favorite people we're going to get to see... but then for many of us, there may come a sense of dread about having to see or deal with other people. Sometimes they're close relatives, sometimes it's a boss, sometimes it's extended family or friends... but nearly everyone ends up having to figure out how to handle difficult relationships at this time of year.

Here are some things I've found helpful in dealing with difficult people:

* Limited time. Don't feel like you have to stay to the very end of that family celebration, or until everyone leaves the office Christmas party. Plan your time, be kind, but you don't necessarily have to commit to an all-day affair during the busiest time of the year, particularly if it will leave you stressed, bitter, and exhausted. Carefully think of how to spend your time during this holiday season.

* Possible conversation topics thought of and considered ahead of time- Pick some things to talk about that won't be controversial... in some families, this means nothing but the VERY LIGHTEST political talk; in some, it will mean virtually no mention of religious things.

And also think of those things that will not be received well by others, and resolve yourself to avoid those. For example, if your Aunt Thelma has never had anything but rude responses to news about what's going on in your church, then this year, you can decide ahead of time to not even bring it up. It helps me to prepare myself to realize that I can't talk about some of the wonderful things going on in our lives (so I don't walk away bitter)... they just don't understand or care about those things- so I don't need to walk into an unbelieving relative's home and expect them to "get" all of the things that are important to us.

* Think of things in advance that they can teach you or show you how to do. "Oh mother in law, how do you grow rosemary in your pots out back?" Or, "Grandma, would you show me how you do that one quilting trick you were talking about at Jimmy's birthday party?" Or, "Mr. so-and-so (who you know is an avid reader), what interesting books have you read lately?") I find that when I think of things that they can teach me about, they feel respected, I might actually learn something, AND conversation comes more easily and generally stays polite and kind.

* Consider what boundaries you will have and how you will respond if they are crossed. For example, think ahead: "if my mother-in-law says anything negative about my pregnancy, I will walk out of the room and let my husband handle it." Or, "if _____ makes a snide comment about our convictions/religious beliefs/denomination, we will smile and say, 'I understand how you feel. (long pause) Isn't it great how good the Cowboys are doing this year?'" Etc.

Think up the things that have typically come up and bothered you (this is different in every family/situation), and think of the best way you could handle it, maintaining boundaries while maintaining peace as far as it depends on you.

* Do all that is within your power to maintain a peaceful relationship. Do all that you can possibly do to make it a pleasant day for everyone-- including those people who drive you the most batty!!! I know it's hard-- believe me, I know. But I find that I drive away from these family times or difficult interactions so much more content when I've thought and planned ahead and done all that I can do to love and show respect to the other people involved.

These are some of the things that have made difficult interactions (particularly at holiday times) more bearable and even enjoyable for us. What do you do/have you done to make it through the holidays when dealing with difficult people or relatives?


Katie Alender said...

Unfortunately, this is something I struggle with all year, not just during the holidays. I find that if things are going well, I should just relax and try to make the most of it, and when things get bad, I have to go spend some time alone, doing something to distract myself.

It's not the best system in the world, but so far it's prevented WWIII.

I think the best solution would be if everyone just changed themselves to gain my approval. ;-)

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

What a wonderful list!
Requiring a measure of purposefulness and planning ahead, but I guess most peacemaking and other things of value do.

My (current) difficultly with in-laws is more feeling "out of the loop" in conversation.

Two Thanksgivings ago I took the crop of pre-schoolers into another room and began telling them the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff (nice, generic story of childhood) They were enthralled, thought I was wonderful, and I did okay until one of their moms came in with a video camera!

Right when I was stuttering at the end b/c I couldn't remember if any parents were touchy about death in kids' stories (Gotta do something with that bridge-troll).

If I could've thought to plan ahead I would have chosen a safer story like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or The Little Red Hen.

Either way, it earned me some big points with the parents, and gave me an improved opinion of some of the children-- whom I had never seen still 10 seconds together. Just made me look a bit foolish, which I can get over.

Mrs. Sewell (Professional Wife and SAHM) said...

Oh My Goodness! You have no clue how much I needed to read this today! I dread the holidays because of family I will have to deal with. Thanks for the great advice!

God Bless
Crystal <>< (SAHM)

Claire said...

Really wise advice Jess!

"Do all that is within your power to maintain a peaceful relationship"

This is a very Christlike attitude :)

Just wanted to tell you I am feeling very heartened by this post! I love the way you approach these difficult issues with such positive suggestions.

Jeannine said...

Thank you for these suggestions! It is definately better to think about this ahead of time until just pushing the thought of it away until it happens...

Kelly said...

Good advice. For our family sometimes just limiting time is the best way to handle things, it's kind of sad to have to do that but it does work.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I always go through all the ridiculous things that happened at the end of the day. Knowing that we have that time coming up makes it easier to be polite and stay sane.

Amy said...

Thanks for the great advice on how to deal with difficult people. I'm sure we all have some in our life and if we don't just wait a little bit and they will come. I will be thinking on this before our family gatherings this coming week.

Karen (Pediascribe) said...

This is a great post. And one I should bookmark. I won't need it this year as MIL is 1000 miles away and we aren't visiting. But come spring when we go for a visit, I will definitely need a refresher course! Thanks!