How can I get along with my family over the holidays?

Yogi Cameron Alborzian
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
The holiday season brings with it colder days, longer nights, and a general sense of growing heaviness throughout each moment of the day. We often hear of the difficult emotional times people have as we get closer to the holidays, often out of a sense of loss or emptiness for the relationships they do or do not have. Given how complicated our family relationships already are throughout the entire year, all of this heaviness is likely to make them even more difficult as the year draws to a close.

The Yogic and Ayurvedic path teaches us that burdening our digestive system with too much food, too much alcohol, and the many things we put into our body around the holidays will give us a general sense of heaviness--with or without the difficulty of our family. Given this, taking on the emotional burdens of these coldest and darkest times of the year with a physical burden of too much heavy food will simply add to the difficulty of complicated relationships.

If you find that you are in for a bit of tumult as we come closer to the holidays, limit the amount of food you eat to only one or two meals a day, refrain from eating for the last four or five hours of the day, and generally keep your system light and unburdened. An overall sense of lightness will grow in all aspects of your life--including in your relations with your family.
Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine
All families experience difficulty especially during the holidays. So know the relationships that are difficult for you and gear up. Limit your exposure and don’t commit to stay past your tolerance. And as a special gift to you and them, try to see the relationship from a strengths perspective. Meaning see what is strong and good about that person and their relationship with you and from there maybe begin a new and better way to communicate...Strength-based.
Family conflicts can resurface during what should be ideal moments. Try to avoid falling into old tensions or old roles. If certain people are problematic, be creative with seating or invite people to different occasions at different times. Set aside differences until after the holidays. If friction arises, leave the room to baste the turkey or take a walk with someone.
Sudeepta Varma, MD
Some of the most common causes of disagreement amongst family members during the holidays include where and with which family members to spend the holidays, finances, and gift giving. Driven by the unrealistic desire to please absolutely everyone (an impossible and improbable feat) we often overextend ourselves and are left exhausted.

Having clear conversations before the holidays, months in advance, is one of the most important ways people can avoid family conflict. Start by deciding very specific things: With whom will you be spending the holidays? With which family members and for how many nights? What will be expected of you and your family? Who will be hosting dinner on the big holidays? How much travel is expected? What is the cost? It is really important to let your extended family know just what you are capable of -- with respect to money and time. How much are you able to spend on gifts for the family? If you’ve lost your job and aren’t in a position to be as generous with your gifts this year have you expressed this directly? Often, we avoid clear communication because it is in our nature, for many of us, to avoid conflict. However, sweeping issues under the rug never make them go away. Sure, there may be initial discomfort when initiating these conversations but they also bring a sigh of relief. Our desire to please others is innate, often at our own expense. But we must also recognize that avoidance of these conversations will lead to disappointment on both ends -- which can create resentment. This resentment can be more damaging than the conversation we are actually avoiding.

By stating our limitations and expectations months before the holiday, in a calm, yet firm fashion, including constraints on time or money, can help avoid family stress.
Renee Ross
Social Work
Anyone who has ever read a Hallmark card knows that holidays are difficult. Many of us create high expectations of what is suppose to be and how we are suppose to behave. Most of us can't remember what we wore two days ago but many can remember what we did or where we sat on Christmas day. Holidays take most of us to a time of remembrance which is filled with memories of both joy and loss. As a result many of us resort to over-indulging in things we might otherwise reject. Giving the gift of gratitude to ourselves and others can help remove the stress associated with the unrealistic desires to please everyone and prevent "the Holiday Blues."
Marchell Coleman
Mental Health
In the context of recognizing your personal risk factors for depression during the holiday season it begins with managing your personal relationships. The first step is to set realistic expectations for yourself and others; remain flexible and open to changes with the best laid plans. It is also important to accept other family members and friends as they are.
It is also important to learn to say no; saying yes when you should say no can lead to feelings of resentment and displaced anger; friends and family will understand when you cannot join in activities and will respect your wishes. It is essential to create balance within your personal and professional relationships; remember the most important person you can not disappoint is yourself.
Richard Walsh
Social Work
I remember an old joke among clinicians when I was practicing in a family therapy clinic. Happiness is having a warm, caring, closely knit family in another city. Yes family relationships can often pose challenges for all of us. My belief that the idea of just getting along with family over the holidays is a rather shallow approach to this valuable area of your life. I'm not saying it's wrong to disregard etiquette, others feelings, and enjoying yourself, but my belief is honoring yourself as a loving being will lead you to not only get along, but create a place of joy and happiness inside yourself.
You can only get as close to another person as that person will allow you. Accepting this can free you to focus on allowing yourself to genuinely express from a place of loving. For some family members this can be a very intimate experience or for other members you may have to learn to create the proper distance that supports you to stay in a loving consciousness. That could mean spending less time with a person or moving yourself physically away from a hurtful family member or situation so that you can continue to maintain a loving consciousness within yourself toward the person. The idea is a loving connection on an inner level. When you feel angry with another this leads to separation inwardly and sometimes outwardly. You are then left with pain and suffering within.
I propose that you commit to yourself that you guide your actions to be of a loving nature and the getting along will be clearer and easier as you journey through this holiday season and beyond.
John Berkowitz
Social Work

Over the next month, many of us will travel to see family and spend time with relatives. That can be an awesome thing; but it can also be a stressful thing. For so many of us, the Holidays are a reminder of what is broken in our family. There are certain relationships that we encounter during the holidays that we spend the rest of the year avoiding. I wanted to give you three things to help you go home for the holidays.

1. Don’t romanticize it. So often we set ourselves up for disappointment by romanticizing what our experience will be. We picture “It’s A Wonderful Life” when our family is more like the Griswolds in “Christmas Vacation”. Our expectations are for our family to be like it was when we were growing up, and often that just isn’t the case. So rather than prepare for reality, it is much easier to pretend things are like they used to be. When we arrive and they aren’t, we are devastated all over again. Coming to terms with some of the brokenness in your family before you get there may help you really enjoy your time with them when you arrive.

2. Remember that hurt people, hurt people. It is so easy at times to focus on the hurt that people cause us without remembering the hurt that those same people have encountered and endured. When a person is wounded in life, and they do not pursue healing, over time they begin to live out of that hurt. Their hurt begins to drive their life and damage their relationships. Maybe the hurt that your relative dishes out has very little to do with you, and more to do with the daily hurt with which they are living.

3. You are broken too. Some of the most miserable moments for me around my family have been those times when I’ve focused on all of their imperfections and forgot about my need for grace. I am broken too. I hurt people too. I am not easy to get along with all the time. When I am able to see my own brokenness and not just focus on all of the things that my relatives do that get on my nerves, I appreciate grace so much more. The truth is, the playing field is level…I need grace as much as any of them do. Remembering that truly makes me thankful.

These suggestions won’t solve all of your family dynamics this Holiday season…but they could change you.

Robert Rozsay
Addiction Medicine
There are no rules when it comes to family. But, I will always speak to your expectations. How do you expect your family to act and how do they expect you to act? Since you can't change them you need to look at them realistically and change your responses to their behavior. Remember you're stuck with them and if you try to focus on the their good points you might actually like them.
Sheila Dunnells
Addiction Medicine
The question suggests that you do not get along with the family at other times during the year, so there is no magic bullet to make everyone behave. However, there are steps you can take to make your holidays more serene.

As an addictions counselor, I suggest you begin with noticing how much alcohol is being consumed by your family members. If this is a problem and Uncle Bert or Aunt Neddie usually gets angry, unkind, sloppy or critical when they drink, avoid them. Make sure you slip away. Doing the dishes is a great way to limit contact and also make points with the person who did the cooking. No one will pull you away from the kitchen sink.

Being overwhelmed with holiday preparations can make many people short-tempered. If you see mom or dad losing their sense of humor, be more helpful. Anticipate what you can do to take a few errands off their shoulders. Wrap some packages, peel the potatoes, get the tool box for dad so he can put the jungle gym together. Be supportive. Be helpful.

If the whole family being together is just a blending of many strong personalities, don't feel you need to challenge every remark that is made. If you don't agree politically, say to yourself, "how important is it." You won't change anyone's mind. If your older brother is a know-it-all, let him rave. In your head say, "I am going to let go and let God." He's not your problem unless you get suckered into the debate.

Gatherings can bring out the best in us or it can unlock a lifetime of irritations with people. Choose, yes choose, not to get involved in unpleasant conversations. Change the subject, walk out of the room, make a phone something to keep away from toxic people and toxic topics.
Arlene Feuerberg-Isaacs
There is a saying "we can pick our friends but not our family". The best way to get along with family members is to accept them as they are. Focus on their positive quality. Keep away from any topics that would be controversial.
Irwin Isaacs
An interesting saying is that: "friends are the family you choose”. That is so true. Without doubt, there are some members of your immediate or extended family who annoy you in one way or another. Unfortunately you didn't choose these people, and they are part of your family whether you want them there or not.
A worthwhile challenge is to ask yourself why you are less than pleased with some of these relatives. This exercise in introspection will help you learn how important it is to be accepting of these family members just as they are. By acknowledging that they will not change, and that it's not about you; you will find it possible to get along, and to even bring some joy into the lives of others.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.