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Whodunit: How to Keep the Peace at Family Gatherings

By Sara Butler

Family and Holidays

It sure would be nice if every holiday get-together with family was like a Norman Rockwell painting. But the cold, hard truth is that for a lot of people, holidays are more like the movie Knives Out.

No family is perfect. There are always going to be difficult family members you simply don’t see eye-to-eye with about a lot of things. You may not be able to control them or change their minds, but you can control how you react. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the holidays without resorting to drinking too much eggnog to drown your family friction sorrows or threatening your Uncle Al with the carving knife.

Create a Strategy

Didn’t you ever read The Art of War by Sun Tzu? If not, here’s the Cliffs Notes version: Plan ahead. OK, he said a whole lot more than that, but he’s pretty explicit from the get-go about the importance of laying plans before you ever get to the battle -- and this is valuable information for you as you deal with your obnoxious Aunt Karen again this year.

A few days, or at the very least a few hours, before your holiday event, make a plan to help you manage any challenging holiday circumstances. Think about the different scenarios you may encounter and decide before you get wrapped up in the heat of the moment how you’ll navigate them. That way, you won’t be caught unprepared and react in a way you could regret later -- and have your mom dredging up months or even years from now. You never want to give moms more fuel for nagging!

Focus on What You Have in Common

It’s our differences that tend to get the better of us in these situations. Instead of focusing on what separates you, focus on what you have in common … like your hatred for the New England Patriots or the fact you both firmly place Die Hard in the holiday movie category. Bond over the things you have in common and avoid divisive issues that will only cause friction. You may be surprised that finding things in common can make you feel more connected to people you don’t see very often -- and that will make for a much better holiday.

Learn to Grow

In your everyday life, you may be surrounded by people who think about the world in similar ways to you and the same is probably true for many of your relatives. Let’s face it -- it’s far easier to get along with people who hold opinions similar to yours, but it doesn’t really afford you many opportunities for growth.

Look at your family holiday soirees as a chance to grow a bit. Adversity can be a great teacher if you’re open to learning, so ask yourself what you can learn from these situations. That doesn’t mean you need to have your mind changed about something important, but it can mean that you may understand a different viewpoint a little better than you did before -- and that, my friends, is growth, even if it’s only the growth of your patience!

Try Not to Take It Personally

It’s not uncommon in disagreements with family to look at it as if there’s something wrong with you, but that’s the wrong way to look at it. If a relative seems determined to pick an argument, then the problem is very much with them. Their criticisms of your viewpoints, your lifestyle, or your opinions say a whole lot more about them than you, so practice the skill of not taking these things personally and you’ll be a lot happier.

‘Tis the season for gifts and merriment, not bail money and bond hearings. The holidays are about enjoying the moment, so do what you can do: Have fun and relax while practicing healthy boundaries and self-awareness. The skills you learn this holiday may help you with the challenges you’ll face in the new year!

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