How to Handle Difficult Relatives Around the Holidays

The holidays are supposed to be the most joyful time of year, but seeing some annoying or difficult relatives may want you to say “No, no, no” instead of “Ho, ho, ho.” So what can you do keep things merry? Seth Kaufman, psy.d, a certified career and life coach, has some tips on how to handle those family members who don’t make you feel so jolly.

* First off, forget the perfect holiday tableau. Dr. Kaufman says it’s important to “be realistic with your expectations,” instead of clinging to a Christmas fantasy that doesn’t exist outside of the movies.

* Next, mentally prepare yourself beforehand. If you know Aunt Tilly is big on making left-handed compliments, don’t be surprised when she asks if you bought your holiday outfit at the dollar store. “Go in prepared,” says Dr. Kaufman. Know in your mind that this is what this relative does. Unless she “gets hit by lightning,” she’s not going to change, says the life coach.

* Don’t sweat the small stuff. Dr. Kaufman notes that somebody can only push your buttons if you let them. You can’t control annoying relatives, but you can control your reactions to them. There is an alternative to yelling at the dinner table, he says. You can always “choose not to respond to it.”

* When you think you can’t sweat the small stuff, ask yourself this: “Is it worth it?” Seth suggests that you think about that before you get stressed out over things like when a pushy relative asks when you’re going to settle down and get married. Choose how YOU want to respond before reacting.

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You can also consider having a conversation with the person you find difficult, but be careful to avoid being righteous, judgmental or making them the bad guy. If you go into the conversation from this place it probably won’t go well. Every conversation is different, but you could consider showing some form of appreciation first and letting them know from a place of partnership and commitment. For example- “Aunt Tilly, you know I love you and I know you just want you to be happy, but it makes me feel bad when you ask me if I am ever going to get married.” And you can try making a request that in the future they could do something else instead.

The Think Human offers life, career, and executive coaching services.