In a perfect world, little Suzy’s mommy and daddy never argue about how much money was spent on gifts and uncle Billy doesn’t over indulge in eggnog and make off-color jokes at the family Christmas party.
Unfortunately, we all inhabit the real world, where there’s no candy-coating the fact that the stress from holidays can bring out the worst in people. More often than not, this stress manifests itself into a family feud.
Although no one likes having problems with their relatives, experts say avoiding the family dinner isn’t the answer.
"Never avoid the gathering. You’ll just be hurting yourself because you won’t get to see everyone else," said Pamela Wilder, a licensed professional counselor with Counseling Services in Flowery Branch.
"Even if you can’t resolve the issue beforehand, attempt to contact the person and agree to put the issue on hold and to not address it during the family gathering."
In the event that the other party won’t agree to a temporary truce, there are other ways to maintain your peace of mind if the gathering turns into a showdown.
"If you know that you are going to be confronted at the dinner table with a relative you are having a feud with, plan ahead of time how you will react to whatever they say or do," Wilder recommends.
"Don’t take offense to what they say. Remember to act and not react."
Sometimes the elephant in the room at family dinners isn’t a disagreement, sometimes it can be inappropriate language or raunchy jokes left hanging heavily in the air by an oblivious partygoer.
"I think we all have at least one family member like this," said the Rev. Mike Reynolds, senior pastor of West Hall Baptist Church in Oakwood.
"If it is adults only, my recommendation would be to speak to him if it bothers you, and then just do your best to put up with it.
"If however kids are involved, I have always taken the hard line and put my foot down to protect my children. When this is necessary, I try to deal with it as privately as possible, causing as little scene as possible."
Should the rough language be directed toward you specifically, Wilder recommends using a "thought stopping and replacement technique."
"When someone says something you feel is inappropriate, immediately think of a big red stop sign before you react," Wilder said.
"Think about things that are pleasant to you — maybe a childhood experience or a song you like — and then respond."
If the barbs start getting to you, consider trying a little "positive self-talk."
"I like to tell my clients to make a list of the positive qualities they have. They can be anything. It could be that you like what you’ve accomplished at work or that you have the ability to make others feel good," Wilder said.
"When you start feeling depressed or down, keep telling yourself, ‘I’m a good person,’ and naming those qualities."
If you are the cause of your own misery, take a step back and re-prioritize.
"Some people have this idea of the holidays being perfect. This can make the holidays feel overwhelming with all of the things they want to accomplish to make it that way," Wilder said.
"To keep from feeling overwhelmed, I recommend making a reasonable list of things you can accomplish and making specific time allotments. You should also try to get things done ahead of time, that way you can relax and enjoy the holidays and the last few days of the season.
"Instead of trying to make things perfect, focus on the true reason for the season."