While travelling home to spend time with your relatives at Christmas might be super exciting for many people, others totally dread it. Being stuffed into a small space with your family can be the perfect environment to create high-running emotions and therefore, arguments. Whether you're going to be spending a few days with them or are in it for a looooong few weeks or so, you may need some expert advice to help avoid those tricky arguments that can so often end in tears and/or slammed door.
Olga Levancuka, a leading life coach and author of How To Be Selfish says it's really normal to find it hard to deal with difficult family members at times - whether that's a nosy uncle or an sister-in-law who loves nothing more than igniting a political discussion.
Good news for anyone dreading spending Christmas with 'loved ones', it is possible to diffuse tension and avoid shouting matches. Here, Olga shares the best ways to make sure your family time doesn't end in an epic row.
1. Preparation is your BFF
Who hasn't been told at least 10 times to "expect the worst to avoid disappointment"? It's a tale as old as time. Olga says this is most people's numero uno mistake.
"I strongly believe that if you expect the worst to happen then it probably will as you subconsciously slip into ‘defence mode’ which means you’re likely to be feeling on edge before you even see anyone." Been. There. "What goes on in our mind often infiltrates through to your body language as well so others are likely to pick up on the tension and respond accordingly," Olga adds.
Rather than freaking out about all the things that could go drastically wrong, Olga suggests it's more productive to prepare for that scenario, and even learn to prevent it.
"For example if you’re single," she says, "questions such as ‘So, are you seeing anyone yet?’ are almost part and parcel of every family gathering. Instead of getting angry, pause and focus on the fact that they probably mean well. You opt for the humorous approach and laugh it off by saying something along the lines of ‘Oh I actually got married last month but forgot to invite you’. Alternatively, you can be bluntly honest but still polite and explain that you’d rather not be questioned about your personal life. Either way they will get the message on the spot without the need for drama."
2. Be that person
We've all been there, right? You moan and groan about having to go to some family thing because you just CBA but when you get there, you end up chatting to someone who cheers you right up, and it's like you worried for nothing. These super chatty, relaxed people make such a difference to the general mood. And Olga says you can be that person.
"Just relax, smile and have a nice thing to say to everyone. Create the right vibe and others will follow suit," she suggests.
3. Help out
"Many arguments could be avoided if the host of the gathering was less exhausted or felt less like they had to prepare everything alone," Olga says. In order to avoid them being stress-city, Olga advises contacting them beforehand to see if there's anything you can do to help out "even if it’s just dropping some shopping off for them".
4. Get enough sleep
Who isn't tetchy and/or cranky when they're knackered? But Olga says having a good night's sleep will set you up perfectly for the potentially stressful situation. "We are more sensitive when we feel exhausted," she explains. "Have a rest. Be full of beans on the day. It's simple but super effective."
5. Be clear about your dietary requirements but don’t expect to be accommodated
"Dietary requirements can be a headache when preparing a meal for many people. If you’re allergic to something or coeliac then your family probably already knows about it. However, if you prefer not to eat gluten or meat let them know politely but don’t expect them to accommodate your request," Olga explains. "On the day, eat a little bit of what they have cooked even if you don’t like it and be grateful. You can just not touch the bits you can’t have/don’t want. Not only will you avoid an argument, you will also show that you value their efforts."
6. Put your ego on ice (for one day)
Sometimes it is so so hard to just let go when you're arguing over something you're passionate about. But you've got to learn to in certain situations, Olga says. "Simply diffuse the argument by agreeing that you can see where someone is coming from and reassuring them that you will consider their view. Let them feel right for once. This is not the time to prove anything or to engage in an argument about a difference of opinion."
7. Plan a reward
What's the best thing about doing any activity you kind of despise? Treating yourself afterwards. And it's a great motivation to get you through when things seem a bit tough. Olga says, "You need to reward yourself for surviving yet another family gathering. Plan a spa day or a wild weekend with your best friend afterwards. Or simply book a day off and don’t make any plans. If you have something you enjoy to look forward to, you’ll be more relaxed and more likely to breeze through family time without any tension."
8. Take a breather
Weirdly enough (not!) Olga is not suggesting giving the door a good old slam and storming off. "If you do get into an argument on the day, simply say: ‘I hear you, but I’m really upset right now so I’ll just make myself a cup of tea and calm down and then I’ll be back as though nothing has happened. Thank you!’" How. Adult. Is. That?!
Hopefully that's left you feeling ready to face whatever relative's celebration you've been dreading.
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