Coping with difficult relatives at Christmas for a peaceful and harmonious holiday

Dec 15, 2022
Source: Getty Images.

It’s common for families to have their fair share of disagreements and ongoing feuds, however, when you mix that with the stress of the Christmas season tensions can quickly erupt.

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

But what if there was a way to keep the peace as the family sit down together for Christmas lunch?

While it may seem out of reach, experts have recommended some top tips to deal with “irrational” or argumentative family members this Christmas.

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

“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,” Wallish said.

“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.

“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 advised you “insist on courtesy and respect”, but to take it slow – particularly with children – so they know they’re still as important to you.

Meanwhile, she said it’s important to agree on 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 previously wrote in a 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.”

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, founder of Intentional Insights – a non-profit organisation “providing research-based content to help improve thinking, feeling, and behaviour patterns”, provided some suggestions in a recent advice piece.

Describing a past 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.”

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

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