Tips for Dealing With Difficult Family Members During the Holidays

The good news is, the holidays can be the most relaxing and joyous time of year, despite strained family relationships. Here are a few simple, stress free strategies for dealing with difficult family members during the holidays.


Create Canned Retorts If you know in advance who is expected to join the festivities, it’s easy to plan for success. When a family member on the guest list has a reputation for inciting arguments, there’s no reason not to be prepared. Rather than avoiding conversation, create a plan for engaging that gives you the upper hand in the event you are confronted with sensitive issues. If dialogue gets heated, having a few canned responses on the ready is a smart, practical way to avoid conflict. Identify a few topics that are likely to come up that are uncomfortable and create four or five answers to steer the conversation away gracefully.


Have an Exit Strategy When a difficult family member creates stress or anxiety that’s having a negative impact on your enjoyment, it may be time to call it a day. However, nothing can be more awkward than trying to create a reason to leave a social gathering that’s not ending any time soon. Have an exit strategy in place that you can rely on if the situation escalates. While your goal should be to stay in good favor with the host, having an out that removes you from the situation before you lose your cool is critical. If you’re hosting the gathering, and an exit strategy isn’t possible, be sure to plan seating arrangements accordingly to encourage a peaceful meal.


Take Time to Recover Careful planning and smart strategizing can help diffuse difficult situations, but nothing can provide complete protection against the sting of a difficult family member on a mission. An altercation doesn’t need to be physical to have an impact. Words hurt and an uncomfortable few minutes prior to employing an exit strategy can leave a mark. If you’re feeling deflated or bruised, give yourself time to recover. Whether it’s the remainder of the evening, a long weekend or just a few hours alone to regroup, taking time to recover after an impassioned few hours is a healthy way to rejuvenate and refresh.


With deep ties and long memories, family holidays are often defined by a melting pot of unique personalities. Happy go lucky, sensitive, chaotic, and yes, even difficult relatives color the holiday season. If you’re planning on spending time with a difficult relative, strategize for success by thinking through a few responses, have an exit plan in place and give yourself time to recover. While you can’t change your relatives, you can be thankful for them. Gratitude is a happiness booster – and that’s one emotion we can all agree there can never be too much of during the holidays at home.