NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

How to Cope With Difficult Family Get-Togethers

Many people become anxious when they have to attend family get-togethers because these get-togethers can become contentious.  Your family members and you can lapse into old dysfunctional patterns especially if there's a long history of dysfunction in the family  (see my article: Regressing to Feeling Like a Child Again During Family Visits,  Overcoming Dysfunctional Ways of Relating in Your Family and Learn to Develop Healthy Boundaries With an Enmeshed Family).

How to Cope With Difficult Family Get-Togethers 

Family get-togethers are "supposed to be" joyous occasions where family members share a meal and talk happily over the dinner table.  

But the reality is that in many families there is often a lot of tension and pressure, especially if there's a long history of conflict among family members.

When there's tension and pressure, most family members walk on eggshells trying not to say or do anything that might start an argument.

There might also be a big disconnect between how you would like your family to be and how they are, leaving you feeling very disappointed.

It's possible that  everyone will come together and have a genuinely good time, which would be great.

But if you know your family has a history of conflicts and that the strain of a family get-together puts everyone on edge, you'll need to change your expectations about what's possible (see my article: Holiday Time With Your Family: Balancing Your Expectations).

Tips For Dealing With Difficult Family Get-Togethers:
  • Change your expectations (as previously mentioned).  You might want your family to be like "The Waltons" or like an episode of "Father Knows Best," but your desire alone won't change your family dynamics.
  • Don't try to "fix" your family members.  Accept that they are who they are and it's not your responsibility to try to "improve" them.  This will go a long way to avoiding arguments.
  • Avoid topics that could start arguments, like politics or religion.  
  • Keep the conversation light, if possible.
  • Try to gently and tactfully change the topic if a family member brings up a contentious topic.
How to Cope With Difficult Family Get-Togethers
  • Don't try to settle family scores at the family get-together, especially if it's a holiday.  This isn't the time or place for this.
  • Volunteer to help out, which could decrease the tension about things that need to get done.
  • Try to be patient with family members who annoy you, like relatives who don't pitch in with cooking, cleaning or taking care of the children or people who tend to complain a lot.
  • Take a break, if you need one, by going for a walk if things become too tense for you or, if you can't leave the house, go to the bathroom, splash cold water on your face and take a couple of deep breaths before you reengage with your family. 
  • Try to shift your perspective about family members to try to find something positive, if possible  (there's an old saying, "Even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day").  Usually, things aren't all bad.
  • Ask yourself if your anticipation of a contentious time might be clouding your perception of what good there might be.
  • Ask yourself how you might be contributing to the negative environment.
  • Keep your perspective.  Remember, even if things go very wrong, that nothing lasts forever and the visit is time limited, so it will soon be over.  You will survive.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me