Worried About Family Conflict Over The Holiday Ham?


If you spend any time watching Lifetime’s Countdown To Christmas, you’d get the impression that the Holiday season is about families filled with peace and love gathered around golden turkeys cooked to perfection. But of course we know that’s not always reality. Extended family gatherings are more like minefields embedded with family conflict. 

People are stressed out.  They may be getting less sleep.  Money is often tight as there are competing financial demands.  Throw in a couple of lingering family grudges, childhood jealousies, or personality clashes and the drama almost feels inevitable!   

5 Sanity-Saving Tips For Surviving Family Conflict Over The Holidays

Use these sanity-saving tips to help keep yourself and the family out of the proverbial “pressure cooker!”

1) Direct The Conversation

The most successful defense is a well-planned offense. Come to gatherings equipped with conversation starters and topics that are unlikely to ruffle feathers.  Steer clear of the obvious inflammatory topics like religion, politics, and money.  And also be aware of the fact that other topics may seem benign to you, but could be difficult to others.  Be considerate:  If someone is single or didn’t bring their long term boyfriend, this may not be something they want to get into with you (or with your judgmental grandmother) over pie. 

 2) Deflect Negative Conversation 

Family Holiday time is NOT Family therapy time.  Don’t get drawn into drama or let it diminish your enjoyment over the holidays.  If you know that there are issues to hash out with your sister, consider calling beforehand to address hurt feelings.  If someone else brings up an elephant in the room, gently but firmly deflect the conversation.  You can say something like, “You know, I’m worried that this is going to lead to a much bigger conversation.  I do want to talk about it. Can we discuss it later?” Follow this up with a new topic, or a simple conversation redirection like,  “Can someone pass me the potatoes?” 

3) Follow the 5-second rule 

Most of us think of the 5-second rule as to how long food can sit on the floor and still be eaten, but in this case, I mean pausing before speaking. What you say can either contribute to family conflict or deflate it. Wait 5 seconds before responding if someone says something that may be triggering to you. Think about what you want to say. Keep the larger goal of conversational peace in mind when you choose your words of response. 

Even though you may want to point out why your Aunt Karen is wrong about her position on global warming or Russian Politics, a noncommittal general statement and subject change may be better for the evenings success! 

4) Plan For Time Outs

Our kids aren’t the only ones that need “time outs” when they get stressed, overtired, or overwhelmed. Have a plan in place for if you need a break during the festivities.  It’s okay to step out to your car or run a short “errand” for ice if it helps you keep your cool for the rest of the evening. Use your break to incorporate coping strategies that help you relax and put you in a better position to handle the evening’s stressors.  This may mean calling a friend who can help you laugh, take your mind off of the moment or put things in perspective. Or it may mean cranking some music, identifying and reframing your thoughts, or sitting in intentional silence.  Take a minute to think about what helps you feel the best now so that you can prepare for what you will need in the future and plan for it.

5) Stay In Your Lane  

Have you noticed that all of these tips are related to YOU and YOUR RESPONSES when dealing with the difficult people in your life?  You can’t change the behavior or opinions of others if they aren’t open to it.   

family conflictIt can be helpful to remember this: Any attempt you make to control someone else’s behavior actually puts you under their control.  You could spend the next 20 years trying to get your judgmental mother-in-law to accept you, and she STILL may not do it! Instead, you are sacrificing your own happiness and confidence.  

If your own soul searching and experience has shown you that your uncle’s opinions, or your grandfather’s political views, or your sister-in-law’s passive-aggressive comments and comparisons don’t reflect your reality, let it go. 

Feel what you feel, know what you know, and set your relatives free to do the same.  

And with that, here’s to a peaceful Holiday Season.  



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