Keeping Peace in the Family


There’s nothing like a good family gathering to bring out some really bad behavior.

Unfinished business will join us over the dinner table, even if we just want to pass the potatoes. When strong feelings are in the air, we are more likely to head back to being 12 years old.

If the last time you joined relatives for holiday cheer, was less than cheerful, try this:

Start with asking yourself, “How do I want to show up, regardless of how others behave?” Think about what you need. Identify how you have been upset in the past, by whom, and in which situation. What specifically do they say that pushes your buttons? How do you respond? Is your past behavior constructive? Do you blow up, shut down or leave?

Then try some compassion and empathy. Consider why your antagonist might act that way. What need of theirs is not getting met that contributes to their behavior? What do you do to add to the conflict? Armed with some practice dialog, and genuine understanding, you can choose to respond differently and keep an untoward remark from becoming a battle. Build a mental image of a bridge, rather than seeing your least favorite relative only as an adversary.

You are settled in around the dinner table and Aunt Curmudgeon once again says something deeply offensive. Though you may be most inclined to throw the gravy boat, instead take a deep breath. Remember how you planned to respond. Don’t let a nasty comment ruin your connection with the rest of your family, and there is no need to accept abuse. You can take the high moral ground, saving her face and yours, by offering something like, “I consider that private,” “I’m not comfortable with the way you just talked to me” or “I don’t share your views.” You can change the subject with, “I would like to hear your stories, though I don’t appreciate hearing about X group of people. Why don’t you tell me about the time when___.”

Decide if you need to adjust your expectations. Will Uncle Grouch suddenly become pleasant and agreeable? Will Aunt Edna stop commenting on your weight? If that is not likely, accept things as they are, and decide to respond differently. It is up to you.


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