holiday family survival

No matter how much you love your family (or they love you!), getting together with family for the holidays can be stressful.

Do you have any of these relatives in your family?

  • Uncle Dan, who loves to talk about his politics which are on the opposite end of the spectrum from yours
  • Aunty Mary, who really has quite a lot of personal questions she wants to ask you
  • Father-in-law Bob, who showed up on time and doesn’t understand why everyone else can’t, either
  • Cousin Sandra, who knows from her sporadic attendance at Google University the exact perfect way to do everything

Emotional puddles everywhere! An emotional puddle is the reaction that another person is standing in. It may be irritation, anger or rude behavior.

Your relatives may splash around in the puddles, but you don’t have to get wet. These four statements will help you “sashay step away” around the puddles and stay calm this holiday season.

Why Bad Emotional Puddles Happen to Good People

Leading with adult qualities isn’t always easy when you’re surrounded by people who have known you since you were a child (and may still treat you like one).

Remember the old adage? “Of course your family knows how to push your buttons. They installed them!”

Instead, you are going graciously step aside from an uninvited and rude comment. Here are four sashay step away statements that will lead you to another place in the interaction.

#1: Press Pause

Instead of reacting to an inflammatory comment, respond with something like:

  • “That is worth thinking about.”
  • “Let me give that some thought and come back to you.”

These are code for, I need to take a time-out and cool down! This statement helps the other person pause too and they can come back to a more calm state.

Tell your brain there is no danger (your brain could be in a past time and think something is dangerous emotionally for you). Check in with yourself as you cool down and see how or if you want to go back to it later. When you are in a different emotional state different, more productive things can get said.

#2: Accept Differences Gracefully

Remember that game, tug-of-war? When you put down your side of the rope, the game is over.

People soften in their position when they feel no resistance. Just like tug-of-war. So how does this work verbally, when someone says something rude to you? You can say:

  • “You may be right.”
  • “I can see your point of view.”

Here’s how this works in action:

  • Comment: Your haircut makes you look older.
  • Answer: Do you think so? You may be right.


  • Comment: You work too much and you children suffer.
  • Answer: You may be right and I am working on changing that.

or (and this could be handy if you prepared or cooked any part of the holiday dinner!)

  • Comment: You didn’t do that very well.
  • Answer: You may be right.

You are taking a step back and choosing not to engage in a disagreement. You win because you have changed course, and the other person feels satisfied because you are acknowledging that you are interested in what they are saying.

All people want to be seen and heard in some way. They wonder how are they making an impact.  A win win.

#3: Agree with the 2%

A third thing you can do is agree with the 2% you can agree with and add that you understand.

  • “I agree children shouldn’t play so many games on the computer. I understand.”

What does understanding mean in this instance? It means you are offering empathy and that you can get the other person’s point of view even if you don’t agree with it.

Stating you understand is a resting place in connection. No problem solving has to happen. You can just be there and listen.

#4: Keep Your Side of the Street Clean

If 2 percent or more of your behavior has caused a problem or negative interaction, say you’re sorry.

Take 100 percent responsibility for the 2 percent that may have resulted in argument or disagreement.

A heartfelt acknowledgement of regret. “You are right I did not get here on time. I will work on this so I am on time in the future.”

Of course the whole situation is not your fault and you might come from a family that is in a pattern to blame others. Just choose the behaviors and responses you want to use and do it. Then stick to the script you have written for yourself. If you set your intention and meet the goal you set for yourself that is success, not the outcome of the entire family gathering.

My Complete Guidebook for Holiday Happiness

Don’t just survive the holidays. Enjoy them! This week’s podcast has lots of tips and tricks for making a new holiday tradition: enjoyable holidays.


Image Credit

Tug of War!” by Flickr user Jason Eppink is licensed under CC BY 2.0.