How to handle difficult relationships during the holidays & Christmas time

How to handle difficult relationships during the holidays & Christmas time

Have you white-knuckled the edges of your seat while attempting to rise above snarky comments from a particularly dastardly relative during the holiday season at some point? Sounds familiar? I guess we have all had experiences of less than helpful family members offering unsolicited advice and opinion where it isn’t wanted. Difficult relationships leave us feeling irritated at best and emotionally impacted at worst. So, how to handle those close relationships if they are difficult and still you’d like to spend some traditional family Christmas time?

"My in-laws criticised us for choosing to study, where we worked, the way we spent money. My partner was quite hurt by these comments but thought that they would eventually stop if we didn’t react to them. This did not happen. At some point I noticed I had taken on the role of defending the values and choices our family made, and I didn’t think it should be my job. I felt it was me against their entire family. I felt such an outsider."

Kati Niemi: (R)evolution for Love - A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break Up?

During our regular lives it is fairly easy to avoid those family members that we don’t align all too well with. We conjure up polite excuses about why we haven’t been able to visit and make logistical decisions that ensure we stay out of harm’s way for the most part with each passing month.

Yet there is an unspoken (okay, often spoken…) collective expectation to make allowances when it comes to the holiday season.

Every year is the same! Or is it…?

What happened to ‘love thy neighbor’ and all the festive love we are supposed to be experiencing around this time of year?

Suddenly, your smarmy cousin is pressing you for a reaction about your career status. And then the step parent you have never really liked starts critiquing your culinary skills. It just doesn’t feel ‘oh so joyous’ after all.

"My mother-in-law is extremely negative. If she can’t find anything negative to say about something. she’ll make it up. Apparently, at the age of seventy, she is no longer obliged to consider other people’s feelings. My partner is used to her behaviour and can’t be bothered to react to it anymore. But I find her infuriating and it causes friction between me and my partner."

Kati Niemi: (R)evolution for Love - A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break Up?

The key to overcoming holiday trauma is to ensure your communication is on top form. There are some powerful ways of reducing the likeliness of hurtful conversations and aggravating exchanges with challenging relatives. Difficult relationships don’t have to ruin our holiday fun after all. All you need is a little bit of know-how and a dash of pre-holiday prep!

How to handle difficult relationships during the holidays?

Here are 5 empowering ways to establish some gentler Christmas communication, in order to maximize your chances of a clash-free holiday season this coming festive season:

Tip #1: Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.

It might be news to you that a simple ‘no’ or a calmly delivered ‘no, thank-you’ does not need an explanation attached to it. If someone is being blatantly rude, prejudice or emotionally triggering to you then it is okay to step away.

Of course, when it comes to the holiday season, you may not actually be able to distance yourself from those you dislike or clash with. But this does not mean that you need to spend focused time with them. You are not required to sit next to them at the dinner table or engage in inflammatory talks.

Politely decline from that board game that involves the person you are struggling to see eye to eye with. Instead, volunteer to wash up or prepare the turkey. That way, there is no awkwardness and you can remain at a safe distance from triggering moments of conversation. Plus, you’ll be on the good books with the host for unexpectedly helping out!

How to handle difficult relationships Tip #2: Respect without needing to accept.

The term ‘pick your battles’ neatly applies to difficult relationships that are thrown under the spotlight during festive events. You are likely never going to change the stubborn and inexplicable views of a person who is unwilling to evolve. Coolly rise above the noise and the nonsense. Let those little hooks go, safe in the knowledge that you do not need to justify your perspectives in order to value yourself. You can learn how to dissociate yourself when needed to keep yourself calm (read more in my book here).

Clinical hypnotherapist, NLP Trainer, Amazon author Kati Niemi

Those that know you best can appreciate who you are. They would never try to get a malicious rise out of you. If you do find yourself faced with an upsetting retort or a dig from someone, simply say, “I appreciate what you’re saying, but I think this might be time to change the subject”.

If they persist, then give yourself a small activity or task that implicates leaving the conversation or even the room. This is where a quick refresher moment in the restroom can really help those tempers from rising.

Tip #3: Gather your team together.

In all likeliness, your family or friends might already be aware of the difficulties you have with another individual. Perhaps you had a tricky fall out with a family friend some years ago who is due to be in attendance at this year’s Christmas event. Or maybe you had a clash last holiday season with one of your parents and your difficult relationship is still an ongoing issue.

Tackle this in the best possible way by having a friendly conversation with those you trust who are due to attend the same event with you. Share your concerns and your feelings without placing them in the middle. Simply express your desire for a peaceful experience for yourself and everyone due to be present.

If you feel able to, ask them to be ready to step in to emotionally support you in another room if things do get a little tough. Knowing that you have someone (or a few people) in place to keep things calm will help you feel prepared—even if it all works out fine!

How to handle difficult relationships Tip #4: Be gentle with yourself

Most of all—be gentle with yourself this coming holiday season. Difficult relationships are tricky to navigate at any time of year. The added pressure that the festive season brings can place even the most emotionally stable individual into a complete tinsel-toxic tailspin!

You deserve respect all year round. Even by those who you do not align with. And especially by your spouse you choose to live with. 

Remember: you are allowed to make your choices also during the holiday season. And in fact, Christmas time is often the usual time of the year to break up. Wonder why…?

"Having accepted myself the way I am, I have found it easier to accept others who like to live their lives differently. My choices are not any better than theirs and others aren’t any better than me. After that lightbulb moment, it was easier for me to set my partner free to live their best life."

Kati Niemi: (R)evolution for Love - A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break Up?

Tip #5: Do what feels right for you.

If a situation is becoming challenging to your emotional wellness then it is absolutely okay to step away from it. Sometimes it’s the best way to handle difficult relationships. And yes, also during the holiday season.

Whether you choose to leave a particularly upsetting Christmas event or simply take a gentle breather in another room before midnight strikes on New Year’s Eve—do what feels right for you.

And sometimes bigger changes are needed, even if they feel hard to make. Afterwards you will thank yourself.

"When I’m at some family party and see my ex-partner drunk on the expensive wine, but drunk nonetheless, I just thank my lucky stars that I’m not the one wheelbarrowing them home."

Kati Niemi: (R)evolution for Love - A Better Relationship or a Brilliant Break Up?

Sometimes you may wonder whether you are the difficult person because it’s so difficult for you to enjoy others’ company. As if you were the problem after all. If you have such feelings, then I suggest you read my tough loving words in the book (R)evolution for Love. It is a self-help book for creative genuine, happy and relaxed relationships (not only about love relationships and divorces but everything inbetween). You can read its reader reviews here.

Whatever is your situation right now, trust that you will overcome it. And remember that this  holiday season is your time to relax and enjoy yourself along with everyone else’s.

Keep calm and take care of yourself as well as your most loved ones.

Happy holidays!

Author, Blogger, Therapist, NLP Coach Kati Niemi

With Love,
your coach Kati
Clinical hypnotherapist, NLP Trainer
[email protected]