Are you dreading the way you’ll need to navigate difficult relationships during the holidays? Here are 10 proactive ways to survive … and possibly thrive!
Christmas songs already have started playing on local radio stations, and without fail one of the first ones I’ve heard is the familiar, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
That song always gets me. Sure, it sounds nice and old fashioned. And I love Christmas. I really do. But this time of the year isn’t necessarily my favorite because without fail, it celebrates excess in everything:
- An excess in spending,
- An excess in calories,
- And an excess in scheduling.
For someone who’s quite content with living within reasonable boundaries, all the excess wears me out by the first of January.
And when I hear that song, I’m reminded that this time of year is NOT wonderful for everyone.
For people suffering from grief or heartache, loss is only magnified at this time of year.
The necessity to navigate difficult relationships is another seasonal stressor.
When your feelings are hurt and relationships are strained
While extroverts love gathering with people and introverts dread it, one common factor unites the two personality types at the holidays: It’s tough to be around people at gatherings if and when you just don’t get along.
If you try to avoid conflict in everyday life, you may know exactly who you DON’T want to talk to (or, quite frankly, shouldn’t):
- People might have hurt your feelings, either intentionally or unintentionally.
- Maybe, through Facebook, you’ve learned how philosophies and opinions that your friends or family members have are COMPLETELY different from your own.
- You might be in the middle of an epic argument and don’t want to talk to whoever is at odds with you.
- Maybe you simply don’t like certain people, or their extreme personalities set you on edge.
Whatever the reason, it’s natural to NOT want to spend time with every single person.
But at holiday gatherings, there’s a great possibility you’ll be face to face with those people you try so hard to avoid.
Beyond giving a friendly greeting, what do you do?
4 ways to navigate difficult relationships
As you get ready for your gathering, try to lay the groundwork for navigating your difficult relationships – or really, any relationship at all. Here are 4 tips on how to prepare:
1. A good first step is to mentally prepare yourself.
Getting ready for a get-together includes a lot more than choosing your outfit or wrapping a gift. Think about the kind of person you’d like to be, whether it’s a family member, friend, or even a stranger.
If you’re a believer, think about how Christ’s ambassador would act or speak.
2. Pray for the people you’ll spend time with.
As you’re preparing yourself, focus a little bit on who you’ll spend time with. If you’re already concerned about particular relationships, pray for the Lord’s intervention.
While you’re at it, pray for the Lord to work and speak through you. Pray that the words of your mouth and meditations of your heart would be acceptable in His sight (Psalm 19:14).
If you’re serious about making the world a better place, one person at a time, there’s never been a better time to practice.
3. Pinpoint what the big deal is.
Once you’ve prayed, it’s time to dig to the heart of the matter.
Exactly why are you upset with a particular person? How have they wronged you? How have you wronged them? What is at the root of your strife?
If you need to confess something to the Lord and repent, now’s the time to do it.
And if you need to ask forgiveness from someone else, try to do it as soon as possible, even if and when it seems difficult.
4. Choose to keep the peace.
If you’re trying to be a haven for others, that means you’ll be stretched out of your comfort zone sometimes. As you seek to become more selfless, you’ll need to put your own feelings aside at times.
Try to be loving. Intentionally be kind. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:14).
6 ways to survive stressful get-togethers
As much as you may have good intentions and have prepared yourself, sometimes things go south. When certain relationships start to sour (and, quite honestly, are difficult to endure) here are 6 tips on how to survive:
1. Remember that it’s just one party.
Because it’s just one get-together, remind yourself that it’s only a few hours. You don’t have to spend extended amounts of time together. You’ll be OK.
2. Make a game plan ahead of time.
Of course, you don’t know what will be said. But think of tolerable conversation starters in advance. As much as you can, avoid deeply divisive topics.
While you’re at it, think of a polite response to stick to if someone starts talking about something you’d rather avoid.
3. Think about how you can occupy yourself.
If and when you’re at a party, you don’t necessarily have to spend all your time glued to the person who you’re at odds with.
Look for ways you can help out – help serve food or do a little clean-up. Or, you could entertain children if they’re around.
If those helpful tasks aren’t your style, think of other people you can talk with. Reach out to others and find out what’s new in their world.
When you put the focus on someone else – either by helping out or by making polite and thoughtful conversations – you’ll be less likely to dwell on yourself and your feelings for a while.
4. Remember that you’re adults.
Petty behavior should be something you’ve outgrown. If not, it’s time to start learning how to do that.
As an adult, remember that if you’re a believer in Christ Jesus, he’s lavished grace on you. Grace you haven’t earned … or deserved. Just as you’ve received that grace, it’s time to show others grace, as well. Even when they don’t earn or seem to deserve it.
5. Be the bigger person.
Even if someone else treats you poorly, you don’t have to mirror their behavior or words. Be the bigger person and don’t fuel the fires of a feud.
Also be sure to keep in mind that kindness goes a long way. The Bible is spot on with the advice that a gentle answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1).
6. Leave when necessary.
If, despite all your best intentions and efforts, things get ugly, it may be time to leave. Either leave the room, or, if necessary, leave the gathering.
As awkward as it may be, it’s better to leave before something is said or done you’ll regret later.
Part of being a peacemaker is knowing what to say … or, more importantly, what not to say.
If you just can’t do it …
One final option is to consider how awful your relationship problem is. If it’s so severe that it will completely zap all the peace and joy from your season and leave you in a funk for weeks, it may be a good idea to simply not go to the party.
If the stress of going is making you physically ill, it’s important to carefully weigh the pros and cons of going.
And if you’re certain you’ll focus on faults for days afterward or spiral into a cycle of gossip and judgment, eliminate the trigger. In the name of avoiding sin, staying away could be a very viable option.
However you decide to deal with the situation, remember that this time of the year may not feel like it’s the most wonderful … but it doesn’t have to feel like the worst, either.
Once you survive the gathering you’re concerned about, breathe a sigh of relief. Hopefully it was much better than you anticipated and you can celebrate surviving your difficult relationships this holiday season without too much trouble or stress.
If you’ve navigated difficult relationships during the holidays before, what’s worked well for you? What’s been disastrous?
Disclosure: Links in this post may be affiliate links. This means that, at no added cost to you, I may make a commission on products purchased through these links. Thank you for supporting this website!
All images courtesy of AdobeStock and Unsplash.