Holidays should mean joyous times ­— but too often they’re also filled with dreaded days of difficult relatives.

By Celeste White

I originally started this post with “A friend of mine has this difficult relative…” And it’s true — my friend does have a difficult relative. But so do I, and I’m betting so do you. As I thought out the issues I would discuss, I realized it didn’t really matter who I started the story with because I’d end up in the same place: confrontation with the beast. It’s late-November and somewhere in our defensive brains, we are disagreeably aware that the holidays, for all their cheer, also reliably deliver an ugly encounter with that relative who, by our estimation, exhibits the emotional maturity of a 12-year-old. Though they come in several flavors — the mutely aggressive, the obnoxiously opinionated, the pot-stirrer, the overt control freak — they all have one thing in common: a knack for twisting your very best efforts to their own ends and robbing your holidays of that “home alone” warmth you were gunning for.

MotherLoadThe flip side of this coin is that, dollars to donuts, one or more of your relatives thinks these awful things of you. Though I’m sure all of my readers are innocent of emotional blackmail, probably none of us is innocent of manipulative twists of plan or a bit of back-biting during this time of close quarters and over-eating (the air is just ripe for these things).

But one thing the holiday table is most definitely not a forum for is a display of your ego. I don’t care if you’re 10 times right — your grandma is not going to appreciate that you chose the serving of her blackberry pie as the setting for your finally putting Aunt Gina in her place. (Besides, why would you waste a perfectly good slam-down on an audience comatose from gluttony?) So, of course, the beast is you. It’s always you. And even if your difficult counterpart is a bigger beast, yours is only beast you can wrangle. So here, in summary, are my tips for getting through the holidays without slugging your idiot cousin:

1)  Ask yourself: Can I work with it? If you can, do. If someone insists upon making the dish you wanted to or using décor you hate, figure out if you can either work with them to create it or supplement to your taste. You don’t have to have it 100 percent your way and usually neither does the other person. The holidays are one of the rare times when you really do have to get along. Try it out. You may find an ally in your old enemy.

2)  Ask yourself: What are the consequences of letting the other person “win”? I’ve found that about 85 percent of the time, the worst consequences I can imagine are simply not that bad. If you can live with them, let the conflict go. There is plenty to do and say and manage for you to bother trying to win every single battle.

3)  Double check: Is a serious personal boundary being crossed? If so, draw a line and walk away (this time). Sometimes — rarely, I hope — emotional manipulation is dark. If someone is truly being cruel to you, there is no discussion or compromise to be had. But for the sake of your family, don’t make the holidays a nuclear war. State your piece, quietly but firmly, and walk away.
I hope none of you needs a lick of the advice I just offered. Happy holiday season, y’all.

Celeste White is a 34-year-old mother of two who practices law in Lafayette and enjoys reading and running.

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