Health Advocate Blog

Avoid friction at family gatherings

The warm, fuzzy feelings associated with the holidays can turn icy when family members with very different personalities, opinions and beliefs come together, potentially triggering arguments. The tension can add to the stress of trying to keep up with unrealistic expectations of having the “perfect holiday.” Try these tips to promote more good cheer—and less stress—at family gatherings:

Set ground rules beforehand. If you know that Uncle Ed and your brother can easily get into a shouting match over differences, enlist a few family members to help enforce a rule to avoid hot button topics (politics, religion, finance, for example). And, in case heated viewpoints do come up, try to have some respectful responses top of mind.

Limit how much alcohol is served. Over-imbibing can fuel feuding. Try serving non-alcoholic cocktails or a punch made of warm apple cider and cinnamon with only a smidgen of—or no—alcohol.

Give everyone a task to do. Whether it’s prepping appetizers, serving, or watching over the kids’ table, assignments give argumentative folks something to do and can divert rising tensions, while allowing you a breather from handling all the tasks.

Include an activity. Taking a post-meal walk together, or watching a favorite movie or playing a rousing game of trivia or table hockey, can keep the mood lighthearted.

Keep the focus on the positive, not on perfection. For example, sharing a sweet memory of your cousin, sibling or parent at the table can help reignite the warm feelings and sense of belonging that make family gatherings meaningful.

More tips if squabbles erupt

No matter if you’re hosting the family get-together or attending as a guest, getting in conversations with people of opposing views can sometimes take a turn for the worse, despite your best intentions. Toss in factors like sibling rivalry and parental control issues into the mix, and the occasion can quickly become most unpleasant. While you can’t control other people’s responses, you can control your own. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Use tactics to remain calm if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Are your “emotional buttons” being pushed during the conversation? If so, it’s important to use some stalling strategies to give yourself time to think before you rush to respond. You can ask for a question to be repeated, for example, or simply take a pause to collect your thoughts. You could also respond with “hmm….that’s interesting.”
  • When you’re angry, limit your discussion. Be willing to take time-outs, walk away, or engage in activities that help cool tempers before you engage in discussions that might become even more heated. Avoid accusations. Before you blurt out something hurtful, count to 10 to calm yourself and defuse your anger.

If you’re troubled by disruptive family problems, talk to a trusted health professional such a counselor who can help you and your family find ways to overcome misunderstandings.