Your Holiday Game Plan for
Dealing with the Relative

Do you love the holidays but dread the thought of spending time with difficult family members? Let’s face it; all of us have at least one “Nosy Aunt Nelda” or “Cranky Cousin Carl” that we’d rather not deal with. The first step is to tell yourself there is nothing you can do to change these people. But you CAN plan ahead to minimize the difficulty. Here are some tips to reduce your stress and help you enjoy your upcoming family gatherings.

Strategy 1: Plan ahead on what your conversation boundaries are.
Decide exactly what conversations you are willing to have and know the ones you want to avoid. If a relative brings up a topic that you have decided you don't want to discuss simply state plainly and calmly that you don't wish to discuss it. Respond by saying “I’m not comfortable talking about this topic Uncle John. But let me tell you about this great new restaurant I just tried. Or whatever light topic you can change the conversation to. Plan ahead with alternative topics and that will really help.

Strategy 2: Plan activities.
Downtime can bring out the worst in difficult relatives. Your holidays will run more smoothly if there are plenty of activities to fill gaps and keep everyone occupied. Don't rely on television to solve this problem.. Plan, plan, plan. You don't have to use every activity you've planned, but you need to have some in reserve. If the main event is at your house, look for opportunities to get people involved. If those activities can be outside for a few hours like building a snowman or playing basketball…. even better.

If you are going to someone else's house, offer to bring a few activities. Depending on your family's interests, flag football, board games, charades, or even something such as decorating cookies can be a good choice.

Strategy 3: Plan an arrival and exit time beforehand and make it known
Plan an entry and exit time as well as a date for yourself if you are going to someone else's house. Do the same if the group is coming to your house. Do not leave entry and exit dates or times up to chance with relatives who tend to overstay their welcome. For example, "Matt and I would like to invite you over for Thanksgiving. We are asking that everyone arrives between 11:00 and noon on Thursday so that gives us enough time to get everything ready. We're also planning a big breakfast for Friday before everyone leaves the next day. Matt and I have been invited to a (fill in the blank) on Friday afternoon and we need to be out of the house no later than 11:30. Will that work for you?” This is polite, respectful but lets your guests know your boundaries and expectations.

Strategy 4: Plan your response to the annoying question that always comes up.
If your sister-in-law always asks you the same nosy question like “You’ve been dating Mark for soooo long. When are you getting engaged”? Or “When are you going to have another baby”? A simple response of “When the time is right” will do just fine.

Strategy 5: Plan on giving yourself an important job.
If your family gatherings are filled with so many difficult relatives that the first thing you feel like doing when you walk in is head for the back door, then "remove" yourself from the situation by giving yourself an important job. For example, decide that this year you will be the official family photographer. Bring your camera to the next holiday gathering and tell everyone you have decided to start a special photo album. Go around catching your family members in unposed, unexpected funny situations like your brother-in-law falling asleep on the couch with drool running out of his mouth. By making yourself the official photographer, you'll release yourself from having to get involved in weird family conversations or listening to your cousin's annual rant about her crummy marriage. Nope! All you have to do is work the camera, and anytime someone wants to rope you into an unwanted conversation or awkward situation, you can simply remind them that you have a job to do - take pictures! You can all share a good laugh with each other by looking at the photos at the next holiday gathering. If you're not much of a photographer, then give yourself another important job like tending to the turkey, making fancy swans with the table napkins, or running to the store for last minute food items. Do whatever it is you have to do to keep busy, while still continuing to interact with family.

Strategy 6: Plan on helping a charity at your family gathering.
Shifting your focus to the less fortunate can help defuse some of the bad behaviors your challenging relatives’ exhibit. Plus, it’s a great thing for family members of all ages to become involved in. For example, at Thanksgiving ask everyone to bring a gift for Toys for Tots or some other charity group, and part of your discussion will naturally revolve around that positive gesture.

The reality is, there are no tricks that can make unbearable family members suddenly bearable. The change must come from within. It must come from you. A big part of dealing with difficult people or situations is learning that you are not in control. You simply have to accept the fact that you don't have the ability to change people, they must change themselves. You can change how you react to things, how you view things and how you ultimately deal with things. Allow the challenge of dealing with difficult relatives this holiday season spur you on to be a better person, a stronger person, a wiser person.

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