We’ve all been there. The halls are decked, the children have nestled all snug in their beds, and the sugar plum fairies could make an appearance any moment. You have gone to great lengths to create a holiday to remember for your family, only to have a difficult family member foil your best-laid plans. Whether that difficult relative is the uncle who has no filter, the jealous sister or the meddling mother-in-law, the Christmas season can turn to misery in an instant – and for military families who aren’t used to being in such close proximity to their relations, the situation can be compounded.
Here are some time-tested strategies, compiled from veteran military spouses, to help you cope with the joy-stealers in your family:
- Before you get together with difficult family members, spend some time visualizing how you want to behave. Do a little mental role-play and see if you can pre-plan some strategies before you even get there.
- Forget the past – focus on the present. Often we create stress for ourselves worrying about what “might” happen, based on what “has” happened. Don’t go looking for trouble.
- Be strategic, especially if you are in charge of the dinner table. If two family members are known to get on each other’s nerves, put them as far apart as possible.
- Drink less alcohol – especially if your family is particularly combative. For many people, alcohol brings out a bad mood, instead of a happy one.
- Limit the time you spend with difficult people. If you are travelling to your hometown, consider staying in a hotel or stay with different family members for shorter periods of time. Use the rule of 5’s – stay as a dinner party guest no more than 5 hours and as a houseguest no more than 5 days.
- Have plans with friends and not just family. This will give you a break and allow you to be around the people you’ve chosen to have in your life.
- Try to maintain a position of “detached concern”. This is when you truly care about another person but refuse to get sucked into their drama. You might find yourself saying, “Aunt Florence, I’m sorry to hear about your argument with Aunt Gertie. Can I get you another cup of tea?”
- Let things go. You don’t have to argue every point or bite every time a difficult person throws you some bait. That said, set your boundaries. You don’t have to put up with offensive language, racist comments or derogatory statements, but with day-to-day sniping and criticism, just pretend you didn’t hear it.
- Make sure to pitch in and help. Maybe your family is annoyed with you because you haven’t lifted a finger! Offer to help cook, or to do the dishes. Offer to contribute to expenses if you are staying more than a couple of days.
- Give up the idea of perfect. Often the difficulties arise from wanting to create the perfect Christmas for our families – choose the “good enough” Christmas instead. You’ll be more relaxed, and your family will have a better time. Remember, it’s when things go awry that the best memories are often made!
It’s important to keep reminding yourself that people who behave badly – whether they are critical, demanding, bossy or jealous – are people who are clearly lacking something in their own lives. It’s not your job to fix their problems, but remembering that they, in fact, have problems might help you feel a bit more compassion. Don’t let your Christmas season be derailed by the Grinches and Scrooges (and various other crazy people) in your life! A little planning and preparation can go a long way towards ensuring that this holiday season is one of the best yet!!