How to deal with (difficult) relatives

fightingIf you celebrate Easter, then chances are you have a story or two to tell from your own family gathering yesterday. Maybe they’re funny, maybe they’re exasperating…or, as is usually the case with family, they’re probably a combination of both.

We all have those relatives that get on our nerves or rub us the wrong way. The uncle who makes uncomfortable inappropriate jokes. The aunt who loves telling everyone about her latest medical problems, real or imagined. The cousin who brings a string of…less than great…girlfriends to every family gathering, then spends the night ignoring everyone to hang out with that girlfriend.

Yes, these examples all come from my own family.  🙂

You may not agree with these relatives or really love spending time with them, but family is family, and there’s no point in making the holidays any more awkward or uncomfortable than they need to be. Fortunately for The Hubby and I, we both love our families for the most part, and it’s only a matter of learning to deal with the few relatives that cause problems.

So, how do you navigate a family gathering peppered with…less than favorite…relatives? Here are my own person strategies. I’d love to hear yours!

Avoid them whenever possible. If it’s a big gathering or you’re hosting, it’s easy to wander into another group’s conversation or to run off to attend to whatever you’re cooking. The easiest way to stay out of trouble is not to get near it in the first place, especially if it’s a relative you really can’t get along with.

Run at the first sign of danger. Well, not “run,” but politely find a way to excuse yourself or steer the conversation in another direction. If your inappropriate uncle gets that “have you heard this one?” look on his face, cut him off by asking him a question about his business, his hobbies, or launching into a story about your own life. If two of your uncles who always wind up fighting over politics start mentioning anything even remotely political, introduce a new subject to talk about…and keep introducing it until they get the picture that you’re not ready to hear another heated debate.

Be polite, but brief. I hate to say it, but sometimes you just don’t get along with certain people. There’s nothing the matter with that…you’re not obligated to like someone just because you’re somehow related to them. You’re just obliged to be nice to them. So, say your friendly hello’s and how are you’s, offer a few polite but short answers to whatever questions they ask you, and then move on. You don’t have to sit and nod understandingly as your aunt drones on about her latest maladies. Just say “I’m so sorry to hear that, I hope you feel better!” and move on to find someone else to talk to.

Diffuse tense situations with humor…but firmness. I have to love my cousin Liz. (Cousin on The Hubbies side, about our age.) The first time I met her was at my first Christmas with The Hubby’s family, and I was really eager to be super nice to everyone and not get into any family spats. So when the political uncles (another example from my real life) started very loudly arguing about who even remembers what, I just sat there wishing it would end. But Liz (who had heard this go on for many more holidays than I had) calmly put her hands over her ears at the dinner table and screamed, like an upset toddler, “NO MORE FIGHTING YOU GUYS, IT’S CHRISTMAAAS!”

It was hilarious, and apparently everyone had wanted to say something for years, but Liz was the only one with the guts to do it. And instead of getting angry at them or trying to argue back, she did something so ridiculous it diffused the tension, but it also made the message (literally) loud and clear that no one wanted to hear the bickering. (I have to say these uncles have not talked politics once in Liz’s presence since then.)  🙂

Do you have…difficult…family members? How do you handle them?





photo credit:  marinakvillatoro


  • Oh yes… My half-sister…. We just don`t get along at all, for many many many complicated reasons. And well, it`s not that easy to avoid someone when they`re your sister.. And you have to share a room with her the entire christmas break and have to listen to all of her nonsense… She`s the oldest (37) and I`m 24, but I seriously feel like I`m the most grown up..

    • Yuck. I feel for you. Isn’t it the worst when grown adults don’t know enough to behave civilly?

  • One of life’s big blessings: a big circle of relatives and we’re at peace with all of them. The fact that we’re at least 5,000 miles from the nearest one may (or may not) have anything to do with that. 🙂

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