With Thanksgiving next week, family gatherings for the holiday season are about to be in full swing.  If your holidays are less Norman Rockwell and more Clark Griswold, you aren’t alone.  A psychologist who has studied family relationships found that 75% of his sample population reported at least one family member who drove them crazy and, chances are, you have someone in your life like that too.

This year instead of dreading the inevitable drama, consider some tips for tackling your family this year without having to dodge a major food fight.

  • Try to Set Your Differences Aside. Whether it is generational, political, or any other issues that cause family conflict, try to play nice and stay above the fray (which is much easier said than done).
  • Don’t Go. The holidays put a lot of pressure on people to be able to sit down with their family for the sake of the holidays, but there may be long running and serious reasons why you may not want to do so.  Sometimes it is better for your own mental health not to attend a family gathering, but rather to create a tradition of your own.  Do something nontraditional or gather your own family of friends and acquaintances to join your table.
  • Flip the Script. Families fall into routines and old patterns/roles seamlessly.  I am always amazed to see my husband with his family because suddenly he is someone’s son, grandson, brother, etc. and those family relationships suddenly come to the forefront more clearly than his role as my spouse.  Keeping your own family roles in mind can help you challenge the assumptions that you are the same character you have always been in the family.
  • Have a Conflict Plan. If you just know that someone is going to push your buttons or the same long standing debate is going to come up right as everyone sits down together, plan out what you are going to do and how you are going to handle it.  Diffuse it with humor?  Confront it head on?  Ignore it?
  • Make it a Game – This one is a trick my husband and I engage in any time we attend a function and we aren’t sure whether it is going to be great, awful, or somewhere in the middle. We make up a scavenger hunt and try to find something or someone who fits the bill for each item – examples might be the person who says the most inappropriate thing, the best child tantrum, the most heartfelt toast, etc.  It gives us something to focus on, rather than getting sucked into the drama.

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