How to deal with difficult family members this Christmas

There's no reason for Christmas to be tense and difficult.

No family is perfect, and when it comes to Christmas, almost everyone will have locked horns with someone – whether it’s a distant relative, or someone closer to home.

From difficult in-laws, to argumentative step-siblings or angry kids, there’s bound to be a few barriers standing between you and that peaceful harmonious Christmas you’ve always dreamed of.

But what if you could ensure peace throughout?

While it may seem impossible, experts have recommended some top tips to deal with “irrational” or argumentative family members.

Would you give them a go?

Ad. Article continues below.

According to Phoebe Wallish, Executive Officer for Stepfamilies Australia, the festive period is the peak time for calls asking for help or support.

Read more: Tough love or too far? Mum urges public to ignore her homeless son

Offering tips on how to remain on good terms with the whole family, she told Starts at 60: “It is the season of giving – so ‘give’ a little and be realistic about your expectations. Accept that it not always possible to please everyone, including yourself.

“You may have to divide up your holidays or ‘your time’ with the kids.  It doesn’t all have to be on the one day, suggest options.”

Wallish insisted spending time together is far more important than spending heaps of money, with children more likely to remember special memories than a toy or gift.

Ad. Article continues below.

“Keep hold of some of the traditions or ways, particularly those that some family members hold important to them, but also start to create new traditions,” she added. 

It may be a first Christmas for step-families coming together, with added pressure on the parents or grandparents as they introduce new families to each other.

Wallish advised: “Offer time, support and understanding, particularly for stepchildren and stepsiblings, acknowledging at first that they have no shared family histories. Don’t pressure kids to feel or act in certain ways. Perfect families don’t exist!”

Meanwhile, author Kathy McCoy offered her advice on how to deal with “blended/extended family blues”.

When introducing family to a new spouse or partner, she advises you “insist on courtesy and respect”, but to take it slow – particularly with children – so they know they’re still as important to you.

Ad. Article continues below.

Another issue she pointed out was splitting time between different extended families.

“Agree together on when to spend time with each family, when to blend celebrations and how to carve out time for yourselves during the holidays,” she said in a written blog for Psychology Today.

“Let family members know that you love them, want to be with them and are trying to work out a holiday arrangement that seems fair to all, including you.”

Read more: Are second marriages later in life easier than younger ones?

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky,  founder of Intentional Insights – a non-profit organization “providing research-based content to help improve thinking, feeling, and behaviour patterns” – wrote an advice piece for the site too.

Ad. Article continues below.

Describing a recent dinner he experienced at his sister’s house, Tsipursky said he was put across the table from a distant cousin, whose political views he disagreed with.

Rather than arguing, he spoke rationally to “Mike” and managed to alter his views by the end of the meal.

“Research on the confirmation bias shows that people tend to look for and interpret information in ways that conforms to their beliefs,” he wrote.

“Moreover, studies on the backfire effect reveal that when people are presented with facts that challenge their identity, they sometimes develop a stronger attachment to their incorrect belief as a defense mechanism.”

He recommended showing empathy, even if you don’t agree with someone, before establishing goals you both share and slowly building rapport with that person.

How do you ensure your Christmas goes without a hitch? Are you worried about awkward family arguments erupting over the table?