An Expert Guide for Surviving the Holidays With Family Members You Love to Hate

You love your family, because of course you do. But that doesn't mean spending time with them over the holidays is easy. And especially after a mega-charged, venomous election season, the dread over Thanksgiving table talk is as real as life itself. 

Every holiday gathering includes a quirky cast of characters. We're sure even Queen Elizabeth is already looking over her guest list and thinking, "Oh, brother." And Christmas and Hanukkah are no different. 

We chatted with two experts -- a family therapist and a psychologist -- to get to the bottom of how to deal with the relatives you love-hate the most.

It may not end up being the most wonderful time of the year, but it can be a civil one.

  • The Critic


    Yes, the relative who finds fault with EVERYTHING is hard to be around. But instead of letting their comments get to you, take a different tack this holiday. "Imagine what it's like to be in their skin," suggests Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, JD, a licensed family and marriage therapist in New York City.

    "To live in a highly critical self is incredibly painful." Work to cultivate compassion for their misery, he advises, and their comments slide off you without any lasting damage.

  • Your Racist, Homophobic Uncle


    "The holidays are probably not the best time to try to change someone's opinion," acknowledges psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, the best-selling author of Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love.

    Instead, avoid any conversations that will give him the opportunity to share his racist or homophobic views. "If they do come up, be assertive," suggests Lombardo.

    "You can say, 'I respect that you have your own ideas, and we have different beliefs in this household, so let's agree to not get into this conversation right now.' Then change the subject."

  • Your Ex and His New GF


    It's the meeting you dread -- you're back home for the holidays and you inevitably bump into your old flame, who happens to be with his new SO. So, what do you do?

    "The key here is to focus on your unconditional self-worth," notes Lombardo. What that means: believing in yourself regardless of how pretty his new partner is or how happy she and your ex seem together.

    Then ask yourself: "How do I want to interact with my ex's new partner?" "Focus on values like compassion, happiness and gratitude," advises Lombardo. "Be the person who you want to be and be proud of yourself."

    And realize that as much as you're second-guessing yourself, they're equally as uncomfortable -- if not more so.

    More from CafeMom: 20 Awesome Reasons to Go Out for Thanksgiving Dinner

  • The Nonstop Talker

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    Everyone's got a relative who sucks up the conversation like a vacuum cleaner. They talk and talk and interrupt others to talk until everyone else concedes defeat.

    But next time they hijack a conversation (and there WILL be a next time), Hokemeyer suggests interrupting them, and handing over control of the conversation to someone else. "That's interesting. Aunt Marge, what do you think?"

    More from CafeMom: 10 Topics to Avoid for a Drama-Free Thanksgiving Dinner

  • The Lazy Brother-in-Law

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    The holiday meal is done, and the dishes have piled up in the sink. And instead of dutifully helping out, your in-law is plopped on the couch and dozing off.

    Two ways to go with this. A) "You may choose to accept that this is the kind of person your relative is and not be offended," says Lombardo. Or B) "Feel free to be assertive," she says. "If this is your house, you can certainly delegate different responsibilities."

    What that looks like: "Since you love watching the game so much, I'm going put you in charge of cleaning up all the cups and food in the TV room."

    But be kind, Lombardo notes, not passive-aggressive. And don't take their slacker attitude as an insult, BTW. "People often get focused on their own worlds and don't realize how their behavior may be seen to others.

  • The Parent Pushing You to Overeat

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    Take a step back to understand what's motivating Mom or Dad. "Most likely, they want you to enjoy what they've made. For them, it's a sign of love to cook, and if you enjoy and appreciate it, it's a sign that you're loving back," says Lombardo.

    To that end, focus on quality over quantity, she suggests. "Make sure you tell them more than once how wonderful what they made is and be specific -- for instance, 'This turkey is the most moist and delicious bird I have ever had.'"

    Rather than seeing your parent as being against you, realize "what they really want is to share love with you and receive love back," Lombardo says.

    More from CafeMom: 8 Thanksgiving Mistakes to Avoid

  • The Drunk Uncle


    You love your uncle Bob, but Uncle Bob after seven, eight, or nine drinks is a pain in the a**. To deal, you're going to have to be proactive. "Have an alcohol-free event," suggests Hokemeyer. "People who don't have drinking problems won't have any objections. Those that do will, and might stay away."

  • The Sullen Teen With the Death Stare


    "The best defense to a bully is to stand up to them and call them out," says Hokemeyer. "Don't allow an adolescent's rude comments to go unnoticed."

    After all, staying silent while she FaceTimes her friends to complain how lame dinner is isn't going to shut her down. "It will only encourage more rude comments," says Hokemeyer.

  • The Ultra-Competitive Sibling


    You made a pumpkin pie. Your sister points out that HERS came out better. You mention that you just ran your first 5K. Your sister boasts about her latest marathon time.

    Why the sibling rivalry? "We feel competitive when we feel threatened," explains Hokemeyer. The only way to defuse it is to surrender the battle. "It doesn't mean you've lost," Hokemeyer notes. You're simply choosing family unity over one-upping your sister.

    More from CafeMom: 12 Tips for Staying Sane When Hosting a Crowd for Thanksgiving

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