How Not To Kill Your Family Over Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, yet Christmas quarrels will still always occur. From arguing over cooking duties to old feuds surfacing during an often intense time with family, whatever it may be, rest assured you are far from alone.

Indeed, 63 percent of 2,061 American adults used negative words such as stressful (40 percent), overwhelming or even exhausting (34 percent each) to describe the Christmas period, according to a survey published by The American Psychological Association. Nearly half of U.S. adults (49 percent) also described their stress levels during the traditional U.S. holiday season between November and January as “moderate,” with around two in five (41 percent) said their stress increases during this time compared with other points in the year.

While online memes and themes regularly make light of the Christmas with family conundrum, less content captures how the pressure of December 25 can lead to many awkward and painful moments.

Here, Newsweek speaks to two experts on how you can survive-and thrive-with family this holiday season.

Don’t Expect Your Family To Be Any Different From Usual

Kaitlin Soule, a licensed marriage and family therapist, advises people to lower their expectations to avoid being disappointed.

First things first, Soule, who specializes in trauma and modern parenting, has explained that family members are still going to act the same regardless of the fact it’s Christmas.

She told Newsweek: “Don’t expect your family to be any different than they are every other day of the year. No matter what kind of expectations we, or society, put on the day, remember that your family members are still who they are, and expecting them to act any different today just because it’s a holiday doesn’t make sense. It will only set you up for failure.

“What this means is don’t expect people to act differently just because it’s a special occasion. In fact, if anything, expect them to act like the more extreme versions of themselves (for better or worse) because with all the added pressure, food, and sometimes alcohol people tend revert back to younger versions of themselves.”

Avoid Addressing Family Issues Over Christmas

For some people, Christmas is the only time of the year when they are reunited with certain family members. Perhaps their least favorite aunt or uncle, say. Soule, also the author of the parenting guide A Little Less Of A Hot Mess advises people against revisiting family drama during this time.

“Christmas is not the time to try and change family dynamics, break cycles, or address past hurts. I know that doesn’t sound like very therapist-esque advice, however, bear in mind the holidays can come with extra pressure and anxiety,” she said. “It’s often not the best time to address serious topics that require privacy or both parties to be in a more calm state of mind in order to have a “successful” exchange. I’m not saying you can’t have meaningful conversation, it’s just important to be aware of the dynamic you’re in and have accurate expectations.”

Plan Holiday Friendly Conversations – Plus Have An Exit Plan

 Melissa Urban, 49, is an expert when it comes to setting boundaries.Provided/Instagram/@melissau
Melissa Urban, 49, is an expert when it comes to setting boundaries.Provided/Instagram/@melissau

You may think planning is only necessary when working out your Christmas schedule but actually preparation is key for conversations too. Soule and New York Times bestselling author Melissa Urban both told Newsweek that it is critical to plan answers ahead of time.

Soule said: “If you find yourself in a conversation about politics or anything else that feels uncomfortable, it can be helpful to have an escape plan.

“Excuse me, I have to use the restroom” is a totally valid way to excuse yourself from a conversation. Again, I think there’ s a time and place for healthy exchanges about tricky topics, but usually holiday gatherings aren’t that place-more often than not, when people try and have these conversations at the holiday dinner table, it doesn’t turn out well.”

Urban, from Salt Lake City, Utah, told Newsweek that short and simple phrases and an immediate change of topic should do the trick.

“First, keep a simple, non-committal phrase in your back pocket, like, “Oh, we won’t be talking about that today,” or “I won’t be discussing that,” or even a pointed, “Ouch. Moving on…” Then, immediately change the topic to something you are willing to talk about,” she explained.

Last month, Urban shared an Instagram video (@melissau) that racked up over 35,000 likes, encouraging others to have ‘safe’ conversation topics at the ready which may include your job, pets or recent travels, for example.

She told Newsweek: “This quick deflection takes the spotlight off the rude, insensitive, or none-of-their-business thing they just said and reduces their defensiveness, while making it perfectly clear you will not be going there today.”

Urban also encourages people to have an exit plan that involves physically leaving the room, this may be for a walk-or even home. She states either is a “valid” option to preserve your holiday peace.

Open Up About Your Feelings Before You Blow Up

 A stock image of a woman quarreling with her adult daughter. Experts have explained what to do if an unwanted conversation occurs on Christmas.JackF/iStock/Getty Images Plus
A stock image of a woman quarreling with her adult daughter. Experts have explained what to do if an unwanted conversation occurs on Christmas.JackF/iStock/Getty Images Plus

In an ideal world, Christmas would be the same as it is portrayed in a movie and everyone will sit around the table having a jolly good time. For some people, this may ring true but for many, it falls short of the Hollywood fairytale-with fallouts being more par for the course.

While we cannot control what other people say, we can control how we react, Urban added, explaining how to avoid “boundary blow-ups” that often occur when we’ve actually been holding our feelings in to avoid conflict in the first place.

She told Newsweek: “Unfortunately, in trying to ‘be nice’ and not saying how we really feel, we end up exploding in frustration, anger, and resentment when we feel pushed too far. But to the other person, it seems to be coming out of nowhere!

“We try to be ‘kind’ by not setting boundaries, but in doing so, we actually hurt our relationships by not giving others the opportunity to meet our needs. Noticing boundary oversteps and setting clear, kind boundaries early can help to prevent this. This is why I tell people, ‘Have the conversation before you arrive at your in-laws’ house, before your sister shows up with her yippy dog, before your uncle has the chance to bring up politics.'”

Start Setting and Sticking To Boundaries

Urban knows all too well about setting boundaries; in fact, she even wrote a book about it called The Book of Boundaries.

“If you know a subject or behavior is likely to occur based on past experience, you can and should set the boundary ahead of time. This allows you to have the conversation outside of the charged moment, when you may be more likely to overreact, and the other person is far more likely to get defensive,” she told Newsweek.

While it may be uncomfortable to veto a conversation ahead of time, it will be worth it. This can be done via text, call or even email. Urban has given two phrases that may be helpful: ‘You know nobody has fun when we start talking about politics, so can we agree to leave it off the table this year?’ Or, ‘Can’t wait to see you, Mom! By the way, John and I will not be talking about our baby-making status, so please don’t ask. When I have something to share, I will.'”

Soule agrees that “boundaries are going to be your best friend this holiday season.”

Explaining the purpose of a boundary, she said: “The only job you have is to set a boundary and hold the boundary. You have no power over whether or not somebody else respects it.

“This may sound/look like, ‘Dad, you are welcome to come over on Christmas Eve, however, you are not allowed to drink in our home. If you do choose to drink, or come drunk, we will ask you to leave.'”

Do Something You Enjoy For Yourself This Christmas

Christmas is supposed to be one of the best times of the year, but for many people, it is the opposite. Parents especially may find themselves putting everyone else’s needs before their own, but both experts Newsweek spoke to advised taking some time out and thinking about what you want to do with your holiday.

Urban told Newsweek: “Moms, often feel like they don’t get to celebrate the holiday themselves because they’re so busy running around making every parent and family member is happy.

Soule couldn’t agree more, explaining that making time for yourself can help you avoid feeling “depleted or resentful”-and you could even plan to do something you enjoy ahead of the chaos.

“Take a minute this year to think about what you want for your Christmas, or your time with your spouse and kids,” added Urban. “Then, set and hold boundaries to preserve that time, space, and peace-and watch your holiday season transform.”

Have you had a Christmas dilemma? Let us know via We can ask experts for advice on relationships, family, friends, money, and work, and your story could be featured in Newsweek’s “What Should I Do?” section.

 A stock image of a stressed woman screaming on Christmas day. It's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year but this song lyric certainly doesn't ring true for many people.SebastianGauert/iStock/Getty Images Plus
A stock image of a stressed woman screaming on Christmas day. It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year but this song lyric certainly doesn’t ring true for many people.SebastianGauert/iStock/Getty Images Plus

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This story was originally published December 23, 2023, 8:38 AM.

source: star-telegram

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