The famous Perry Como song “Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays” sums it up like this: “If you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays you can’t beat home, sweet home.” But in many households, that saccharine theme doesn’t exactly play out each December.
Whether you’ve got critical in-laws, an irritable sibling or the ever-fussy aunt, family drama abounds at this time of year. But the tension in the house doesn’t have to ruin your Christmas season — try these four tips to enjoy a harmonious holiday with your difficult loved ones.
1. Talk it over
If you plan to have yourself a merry little Christmas, you need to plan ahead.
“Long before a couple goes to visit the family, they should sit down and have a conversation to make a plan for dealing with the types of situations that have been difficult in the past,” said Dr. Adam Moore, a marriage and family therapist and the clinical director of Utah Valley Counseling. “You have to look at how the relationships already are, then say, ‘Here’s how we’re going to deal with that.’”
Talking it over in advance and putting a plan in place will allow you to spring into action when the issue arises at a family gathering.
2. Think positively
Do your part to let there be peace on earth by practicing what psychologists call positive attribution bias.
“Go into the family interactions assuming the best from people,” Dr. Moore said. “Make an assumption that people have good intentions regardless of their actions and that they’re not trying to hurt or offend you. You can even attempt to take difficult interactions or statements and twist them into a more positive light.”
Though no one wants to admit it, often when there are difficult family dynamics, some of the problems are in our heads — we perceive a comment or an action to mean something that wasn’t at all intended.
3. Set healthy boundaries
It might not feel like the most wonderful time of the year when you’ve traveled over the river and through the woods only to find yourself sleeping on an uncomfortable air mattress in your host’s basement. When families gather for the holidays, space is often at a premium.
“Setting up healthy boundaries with the family is a really good thing to do — where are we going to sleep, where are we going to spend time together as our little family unit, how much time and resources are we going to put into the extended family?” said Dr. Moore.
There may be certain family gatherings you’ll avoid entirely because history has shown that every year this event turns out poorly. Some family members may take offense to this — “you guys always skip the family talent show!” But a simple explanation is all you need to offer: “We value our family relationships, and not attending this event helps us to have good relationships during the holidays.”
4. Have yourself a merry little Christmas
During the craziness of the holidays — and especially while you’re out of town and staying with family — it can be difficult to take time for yourself. But consider self care to be as essential as the pumpkin pie.
“Each individual should be spending time on self care to keep their minds clear and their emotions stable to have the internal resources to deal with family complexities,” Dr. Moore said. “Spend time doing things that energize you and help you stay relaxed, and to feel like your needs are still being met while you’re making sacrifices because of the way the family plans things or chooses to spend the holidays.”