Christine (to therapist): The holidays with Danny’s parents are a nightmare. For the last 15 years my mother-in-law has tried to tell me how to raise our kids, as if I have no clue. She’s so critical; I know she’ll remark about my weight gain.

Danny: My family isn’t as bad as yours. Your dad will try to get me riled up about politics and draw me into a debate. Plus, your 28-year-old niece thinks it’s cool to give our two teens champagne on New Year’s without our permission.

Are you going home for the holidays? You know, to celebrate with your family during “the MOST wonderful time of the year.”

Even the most extraordinary of relationships can be strained when couples spend the holidays in close quarters with each other’s families. Whether it’s a day or a week together with in-laws (or out-laws) and others, proactively anticipating and planning for what may occur reduces stress and enables you to actually enjoy the holidays. The more potential predicaments you and your partner can foresee, the better prepared you’ll be.

We’ve created this Holiday Survival Guide to support you and your partner during the upcoming season:

Make It a Team Effort
Preparing together will set the stage for you and your partner to be a team when you are with family.

Identify Hazards
Take time individually to think about which relatives you will see and write down the potential hazards you anticipate. Be factual, not judgmental. Starting your sentences with “I’m afraid…” will make your partner less defensive when you share.

Discuss Issues Respectfully
Next, calmly discuss these difficult situations together. Don’t forget that the people you are criticizing are the parents and relatives of the person you love. Expressions of anger, blame, contempt and defensiveness will only pit you against each other. Instead, collaborate as a team to address and solve problems. If the conversation escalates, take a cool-off break.

Adopt an Attitude of Acceptance
Remember that the only person you can control is you. If relatives are critical, judgmental or argumentative, accept this fact and focus on finding the best way to respond. You won’t be surprised when the person in question behaves in their character-logical manner – you predicted they’d be that way! Your power lies in detaching yourself from their words and actions.

Plan Your Responses

  1. Pick your battles – Sometimes the best response is no response. Simply walk away and bite your tongue.
  1. Redirect – When your father-in-law states that you should be more aggressive in your stock portfolio say, “I can see you feel strongly about that.” Or, “I see your point.” Then change the subject. This acknowledges that you’ve heard him and ends further discussion politely.
  1. Be assertive – Direct, honest, straightforward. When your mother-in-law comments on your weight and tells you about the latest diet, respond assertively: “I appreciate your concern, but I’d rather not talk about it,” or “This isn’t the right time to talk about it.”
  1. State your feelings – When your father-in-law implies that you were the one who influenced your husband to move further away say, “I know you would never intend to hurt my feelings, but I did feel hurt when you said that.”

Be The Best Part of Yourself
Write down three adjectives that describe you at your best. For example, “I am kind, compassionate, and loving.” Consciously set your intention to respond with those traits no matter what. For example, if a family member hurts you and your natural response is to come right back at them, take a breath and empower yourself by reacting as your best self would – with kindness, compassion and love.

  • To meet anger or criticism with compassion, say, “I can see you are feeling angry about this. Help me understand.”
  • To meet negativity with kindness, say “Sounds like you are feeling down.”
  • To meet distance with love, be the first one to reach out and engage others in connecting.

Respect the Family
Do the right thing even when others don’t. It will make you feel centered and better about yourself. After all, this is your partner’s family.

Get Support from Your Spouse
Create a signal like a shoulder squeeze, a phrase, or some other sign that indicates you need to talk in private. Explain the situation to your partner and let your partner talk to their family for you or help figure out the best response.

Preparing for family visits is a great way to head off problems, create a sense of connection with your partner and set yourself up to have a wonderful holiday season.

We’ll be doing the same ourselves.

Happy Holidays!

Click here to read more holiday survival tips.

How are you going to make this holiday season less stressed and more enjoyable?