Coping with Family Gatherings: 5 Tips for Success

Coping with Family Gatherings: 5 Tips for Success

Last update: 18 August, 2019

The end of the year is a few months away and that means office Christmas parties, family parties, and getting together with friends. Nothing needs to go wrong when you get together with your family. However, there is conflict in every family and Christmas parties are a good opportunity for that conflict to arise. In any case, Christmas is a complicated time of year for many adults. If that’s the case for you, don’t worry – you aren’t the only one.

It’s important to point out that conflict is part of family life. It’s normal that your family members make you feel bad sometimes. However, danger arises when the conflict goes unresolved and it festers. So much so that it can end up exploding during Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas day lunch. Does this sound familiar to you? If the answer is yes, we want to help you make sure that prior circumstances don’t take over and ruin your family gathering.

In this article, we have gathered 5 important pieces of advice for successfully navigating family gatherings. The idea is that these strategies will help you be with people you have problems with (or have had problems in the past.) Not only that, but if you follow this advice, you can even have fun, feel festive, and participate actively in the gathering. You can memorize all our advice and have it in your back pocket in case things start to get tense and you can sense conflict brewing.

christmas dinner

5 tips for successful family gatherings this coming holiday season

1. Avoid responding to provocations. If there’s something to discuss, now is not the moment.

When you have an unresolved issue with someone, it’s tempting to bring it up at the first opportunity. It’s understandable that you want to talk about things and get some closure. That’s why when you find yourself with a person you have a conflict with, you might provoke them without even realizing it. Or even allow yourself to be provoked.

In this situation, it’s important to identify the possible provocation as soon as possible. The goal is to redirect the conversation to a neutral subject. Once you’re on friendly ground, the tension will dissipate. Family Christmas parties are definitely not the opportune time to talk about sensitive subjects.

“Even if you have a big family, give yourself some personal space where no one can enter without your permission.” [translation]

-Alejandro Jodorwsky-

2, Focus on those who feel lucky to have the family all together. Do it for them!

In many families, there are certain people like mom, dad, or grandpa, who are very happy to have the whole family together. The rest of the family agrees to participate in family gatherings in part because they want to make them happy. So, if you don’t feel motivated to get together with your family, concentrate on the fact that your gesture will make someone you love happy.

3. Analyze and be honest with yourself: what is it that bothers you? Does it have a solution?

When being around a particular person bothers you, you need to figure out what is really going on. Can you change what is bothering you? Does this person have a trait that bothers you because it’s actually one that you share? Answering these questions is fundamental to manage the emotions that come up during a conflict. Maybe the issue is a family member’s personality trait that isn’t going to change. In that case, you have to be the one to work on your tolerance. You can also try to avoid circumstances in which this particular trait may come up.

One way or another, a family gathering isn’t the right time to try and foster change in someone. It doesn’t matter how good your intentions are, or how much the person needs to change. It’s not a good time to tell someone that they smoke too much or should eat more. You have all year to do it, so don’t ruin the party with comments that might hurt someone. Try to hold back, even if you think your comments are inoffensive.

family conflict

4. Talk to yourself and reflect on if it’s worth having a conflict during a family gathering

When you feel angry, try to take a few minutes to talk to yourself and reflect. Is it really worth starting a fight right now? When I say “talk to yourself” I mean using self-instruction in your favor. Self-instructions are instructions that you give yourself.

In other words, the words that you tell yourself act like orders in the brain. So, if you tell yourself to be calm and serene, it will be easier for you to deal with your family and get through the gathering successfully. 

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.”

-Richard Bach-

5. Avoid reaching your limit. Take yourself out of the situation before it’s too late.

Avoidance isn’t always a negative coping strategy. What’s more, it’s actually the best strategy when you’re dealing with a complicated situation and it’s neither the time nor the place to discuss it. Avoidance is the best option if you already know that you’re going to get angry, lose control, and make other people uncomfortable. Trying to control your anger when your patience is worn thin isn’t a realistic goal.

It’s also important to set boundaries with your family members before Christmas comes around. Every family works differently. Your family might be independent or really close. If your family is independent, the boundaries between each family member’s life are set and respected. That way, when family gatherings happen, the work is already done.

On the other hand, if your family is really close, the boundaries might not be set. In that case, it’s a good idea to set them before you get together. This is because family gatherings aren’t the best time to explain your personal needs. It’s not ideal to try to fend off those family members who tend to get overly-involved in your life.

At any rate, it’s always a good idea to set boundaries with family members. Be clear about what you want to share. It’s also important to communicate when you want advice and when you don’t. Remember that you have the right to make your own decisions, even if those decisions go against what most of your family thinks or believes.

Finally, take advantage of the holidays to enjoy the positive side of family gatherings. Focus your energy and your attention on the positive. Above all, remember to be patient and not get into conflicts. That way, a good idea won’t end up being unpleasant for all involved. Don’t forget that your attitude during the holidays can have a significant impact on other people’s well-being.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.