1. Anticipate your reactions. Because of past experience with those difficult family members, you know what to expect. So, anticipate how you will react ahead of time. Think it through. Imagine a scenario and how you will respond. This anticipation can help you feel in control of problematic situations.
2. Pick your battles. There will always be the relative that asks why you are not married yet, have kids or aren’t in a better job. Decide if you want to take this on or simply respond with a preplanned response like, “I don’t know. Got any ideas.” Sometimes it is best not to engage because it will upset you.
3. Practice restraint and extend grace. This is one time of the year that you may want to refuse to engage in conflict or deep family issues. Keep it light with the focus on the positive things of the holiday. Redirect conversation to subjects of gratitude and joy. If a difficult relative tries to pick a fight, don’t go there. Determine to show mercy and grace this time of year.
4. Limit alcohol. When some people drink they get belligerent and combative. This only makes matters worse so opt for an alcohol free celebration or make sure people are not over indulging.
5. Have enough variety in activities that everyone can find something he or she likes to do. Take a walk, start a card game, play touch football, join in on games with the kids, etc. Keeping people engaged helps stave off opportunities to get on each other’s nerves. Getting involved with the kids can relieve stress and get you out of difficult conversations.
6. With really difficult families, limit your time and have an exit strategy. If people start to become verbally abusive or drink too much and get combative, kindly excuse yourself and have some where to go. Asa grown up, you don’t have to put up with this type of behavior.
7. Use this time to watch and learn. It may help to become an observer of your family interactions. Watch how people relate and interact. Study the family and decide if you are part of the dysfunction and how to make changes. Family get togethers can be learning situations if you are aware of the patterns of interactions.
8. Be realistic. Unless your family has been in therapy, not much will be different. But these are your relatives and do not have to be your best friends. Be respectful and kind but don’t expect too much if nothing has changed.
9. Know what triggers you. It helps to know your hot buttons and be prepared to respond calmly. You have control over your reactions so don’t expect others to change. You change how you respond to those hot triggers.
10. Pray and remind yourself that you are a grown-up now. Family get togethers can bring back painful memories. It helps to remind yourself that you are not that helpless child anymore, that you are not a victim and can behave in ways that take care of you. If you need a break, go for a quick walk, or in to a room and just deep breathe and get your thoughts together. Pray and ask God to help you be lovely to those not always so lovely. By God’s grace, you can do it.