February 26, 2024

They say this is the most wonderful time of the year — and quite possibly, it could be.

That is, except if you anticipate having combative relatives in your home during the holidays

If you’re worried about the possibility of fights or quarrels over any number of topics during the holiday season, mental health experts shared strategies and insights for how to diffuse arguments and how to speak to relatives about your concerns.

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And, if all else fails, you might even need to revoke invitations ahead of time if matters can’t be addressed. 

“Don’t buy into the belief you have a ‘perfect family’ or that the holiday will be perfect,” said Jonathan Alpert, a psychotherapist and executive performance coach with practices in Manhattan and Washington, D.C., and the author of the book, “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.” 

Friends celebrating around the Christmas table

“Don’t buy into the belief you have a ‘perfect family’ or that the holiday will be perfect,” said one psychotherapist and executive performance coach. He said that if people adjust their expectations, “you’re less likely to be disappointed and stressed should something not go according to plan.” (iStock)

“By adjusting your expectations, you’re less likely to be disappointed and stressed should something not go according to plan — and you’ll also take the pressure off yourself.” 

Read on to learn how to have more harmonious family gatherings this holiday season

If you know in advance there’s bad blood between relatives, what can you do?

When you invite relatives to your home to celebrate the holidays — and there’s some dissension among family — there are ways to be proactive. 

Talk to people ahead of time. Hold a conversation with them separately about your expectations of their behavior, said Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” who is based in Marathon, Florida. 

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“Make it clear that they are welcome to attend, but that arguing or rude behavior won’t be tolerated.”

After all, you have others to think about — including your loved ones and possibly your children and many other people you care about deeply.

young boy in santa hat in airport

Said one psychotherapist and author about difficult people who may be coming over this holiday season, “Make it clear that they are welcome to attend, but that arguing or rude behavior won’t be tolerated.” After all, you have many others to think about — including your loved ones and possibly your children and many others you care about deeply. (iStock)

Refuse to take sides. Morin stressed to make it clear that you’re a neutral party who wants to invite everyone — and you aren’t interested in listening to complaints about the other person. 

“Be welcoming to everyone whom you invite to attend the gathering,” she added. 

Reconsider serving alcohol. “Alcohol can lead to increased disagreements and bad behavior in many instances,” Morin told Fox News Digital. 

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“You might decide not to serve alcohol because you want to preserve your peace.”

Can you ever just pick one relative over another?

Yes, Morin acknowledged, you can certainly just pick one relative over the other. 

friends celebrate with beer

In many instances, “alcohol can lead to increased disagreements and bad behavior,” said one expert. So this year, at holiday time, “you might decide not to serve alcohol because you want to preserve your peace.” (iStock)

“Sometimes family rifts stem from serious issues, like childhood abuse, crime or substance use,” she said. 

“You don’t have to invite people to your home just because they are related to you,” she added. 

You’re a neutral party who wants to invite everyone — and you aren’t interested in listening to complaints about the other person. 

“You might decide to pick one relative because you want them to feel emotionally safe or because you want them to attend the gathering and they wouldn’t if the other person were going to be there.” 

Do you warn both people to be on their best behavior ahead of time?

It’s a good idea to make it known that everyone is going to be invited — and that everyone is welcome as long as they’re on their best behavior, Morin said. 

man carving turkey

It’s a good idea to make it known that everyone is going to be invited — and that everyone is welcome as long as they’re on their best behavior, said one expert about this year’s holiday gathering. (iStock)

“You might set some ground rules ahead of time and warn them if they raise their voice, become disrespectful or try to instigate the other person, they’ll be asked to leave,” she added. 

What if the relative isn’t at odds with a particular guest but just has a combative personality?

If there’s a particular relative who starts arguments and is an instigator, it may be beneficial to speak to the person individually. 

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“If there’s a relative who often starts tiffs, it may be helpful to have a conversation with this person about your expectations,” Morin told Fox News Digital. 

“Let the person know you don’t want them bringing up sensitive subjects or making jokes at anyone’s expense.” 

Stock image of a Christmas tree

“If you are hosting at your home, you have the right to decide who will be in attendance,” said one expert about this year’s holiday get-togethers.  (Anastasiia Krivenok via Getty Images)

How do you keep hot topics out of the conversation?

This is very difficult to do, as we cannot control other people, said Mia Rosenberg, a psychotherapist and owner at Upsider Therapy in New York. 

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“However, if and when hot topics come up, you can set a boundary by saying something like, ‘Let’s not get into XYZ, it can be controversial and we’re all having a good time. Why don’t we talk about ABC instead?’” she said.

Can you say to a relative, ‘I can’t have this in my home again like last year. I think it would be better if you visited another day’?

Said Rosenberg, “As challenging as it may be to tell a relative not to come to a holiday [gathering], it might be what is in the best interest of many of your guests, and of you as the host.”

She did suggest, however, that it would be important to first weigh the pros and cons of a conversation like this beforehand, to determine if it is necessary for the vibe of the event. 

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“If you are hosting at your home, you have the right to decide who will be in attendance,” Rosenberg continued. 

“A conversation like this can lead to hard feelings — but having a relative come over who does not get along with other relatives can also lead to hard feelings,” she said. 

“Think about what is in the best interest of the group.”

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