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Six Tips for Dealing with Family Drama During the Holidays

A group of family members sitting at home crying watching tvThe holidays are some people’s favorite time of year. Cozy nights in, creating new memories, and lots of time spent with immediate and extended family members.

For some, this time is wonderful. But for others, dealing with family members and in-laws can make the holiday season extremely stressful; even dreadful.

If you have difficult family members who just seem to ruin your holidays, here are six ways to deal with them this season.

  1. Set boundaries
    Setting boundaries during this time will help make the holidays with family a little more manageable. It’s okay to tell your family that you won’t be able to attend every single-family function they have planned. For example, you can agree that you can come to Christmas Eve dinner, but that Christmas Day is reserved for your spouse and kids. Setting these boundaries and sticking with them will help prevent resentment from building since you won’t be spending your holidays shuffling everyone all over town meeting the expectations of others.
  2. Brush it off
    It seems that the holidays can bring out the best and the worst in people. Some people are highly stressed during this time and may make off the cuff remarks. Try not to take things too seriously. With all the pressures and dynamics mixing together, some things are bound to be said that aren’t truly meant that way.
  3. Limit alcohol
    It might seem like always having a glass of wine in your hand is the only way you will get through a family gathering, but drinking too much will lower your inhibitions and prevent you from being in full control. Some people become argumentative or aggressive when drinking. And sometimes alcohol can limit our filter on topics we might normally avoid.
  4. Find reasons to be grateful
    Focusing on the good things can give you a mood lift. Are you happy that you don’t have to cook the bird this year? Excited that you get to travel to a wintery climate for the holidays? Be grateful that you have a family to spend the holidays with, that there is delicious food to enjoy, and a cozy home to relax in. Meditating on the good things can really change your perspective and mood.
  5. Try to enjoy yourself
    As crazy as family can make us feel, they are ours and nothing is quite like the holidays with them. Truth be told, without them, some of us would be lost this time of year. Try to appreciate the good qualities each one of them brings to the family and enjoy the dynamics of your gatherings. If you had the chance to witness a friend’s family and saw how they functioned, you might decide to keep yours after all.
  6. Have someone you can talk to
    If your family is especially toxic, you may need outside support to get through it. If you have a partner and/or children, then great, you have a built-in support system. If you aren’t married or dating, see if you can bring a friend home for the holidays. Some friends may not be able to afford going home to see their own families or may not have families to celebrate with. Can’t find anyone to trek home with you? Make a deal with a friend that you will message each other throughout the day to check in and offer support to keep each other sane.

All of these strategies are actually aimed at your behavior instead of your family’s. That’s because in the end you cannot control how anyone else acts during this time, or ever. The only thing that you really can control is how you react and respond to different people and situations. Being aware of your behavior and changing your mindset might be the best — and only way to survive the holiday drama this season.

Six Tips for Dealing with Family Drama During the Holidays

Kurt Smith, Psy.D., LMFT, LPCC, AFC

Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching and writes a blog about the issues facing men (and the women who love them). As an expert in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today, he regularly appears on The Huffington Post, NerdWallet and PsychCentral. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their lives and relationships better. Check out his weekly tips on Facebook or Twitter.

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APA Reference
Smith, K. (2018). Six Tips for Dealing with Family Drama During the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 17 Nov 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.