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Dealing with "challenging" relationships during the holidays

This time of year whether it is a holiday dinner,  New years gathering or vacation with family, you may need to deal with “challenging” relationships.  The following tips are intended to make your interactions FEEL BETTER. 

1.  Remember you are often  attending an event to make someone else happy, your partner, mother, boss. Doing things you prefer not to do, for someone you care about, makes it easier to accept being with people you don’t want to be with. Feel good about the kindness you are showing.

You are also modelling this give and take behaviour for your children, particularly adolescents, who don’t want to go to “boring” aunt Mary’s house, where everybody asks him too many questions.  It is an opportunity to demonstrate the give and take that goes on between people in any meaningful relationship.

2.  Don’t expect there to be any change in the people who you feel are “challenging”. They are going to behave in the same annoying way they have always behaved.  But if you go into those social situations hoping that they will miraculously change in the next ten days or two weeks you will be sorely disappointed.  Expecting people to be exactly the same as they were last visit,  will help you FEEL BETTER and be much less disappointed.  You might even laugh at the first irritating comment.

3. Be prepared with answers to the typical annoying questions or comments that friends and relatives ask at social gatherings. 

“When are you two having a baby?”

Answer with humour-don’t worry grandma you will be the first to know.

Or    We prefer to keep that private, tell me what you enjoyed most about parenting?

“The children need to be taught better table manners”

The best answer ever for many comments is   I am sorry you feel that way.

It acknowledges that you have heard the other person but doesn’t engage with them or create immediate conflict.  Then deflect. I wanted to make sure I told you how well your grandson/daughter is doing at school.  His teachers love him.  

4.  Pamper yourself before and after the social interactions.  Buy yourself flowers, get a massage, buy the expensive bottle of wine you were reluctant to buy last week. Something to look forward to.

5. Find the least annoying person in the room and spend time with them.  Notice the special positive moments that are occurring, the nice music, warm fire, decorations, and savour the moment.

6. If you want to address an issue with a friend or relative do it ahead of time. Start the conversation with a positive, “we really appreciate all the lovely gifts you give the kids”, express your issue clearly “we would appreciate you giving the kids fewer gifts this year, we want them to appreciate what they get and not have too much” and ask the other person what they think or feel, would that work for you?  This can create a mutually respectful dialogue.

7. When some relationships become extremely difficult and you want to change the holiday/vacation plans you should do so. It is not your job to make everyone happy particularly at your own expense.  Meet your own and your immediate family's needs and find different ways to spend time together with other friends and family. You have not done anything wrong by making a change and you can find effective ways to deal with the range of feelings you may experience.

For more strategies and tools for building good meaningful constructive relationships during the holidays and throughout the year check out.

Feeling better beat depression and improve relationships with interpersonal psychotherapy 

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