Make the best of family conversations over the holiday

Man rolling huge concrete ball up hill.

Holidays are filled with all kinds of repeating stresses.

Many people dread spending time with family over a holiday. Relatives are thrown together whether they like it or not, often for repeated stories, complaints and arguments.

Are you ready to tackle Aunt Martha’s searing comments about your weight?

First, recall Sisyphus from Greek mythology. He was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, getting close to the top only to see it roll down again.

Maybe that’s how you currently approach those holiday conversations, for example, when Aunt Martha says, “So sweetie, I understand Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers have new programs especially designed for those holiday temptations.”

If you choose to follow in the steps of Sisyphus, you will try to change how Aunt Martha thinks about your size. You start with data showing the limitations of these programs.

That doesn’t quiet her. So next you tell Aunt Martha that you are working at accepting and loving yourself the way you are. You ignore aunt Martha’s plastic smile and keep pushing the boulder up the mountain. You think you can stop Aunt Martha from setting your goals – for your life.

“Good luck,” says Sisyphus.

What is your escape hatch? You won’t need therapy for this one.

You can do something Sisyphus could not. Stop pushing that wretched boulder up the mountain. In other words, stop believing you can quiet aunt Martha’s criticisms. Instead, you can diplomatically redirect Aunt Martha by saying, “You bet, holidays are filled with all kinds of surprises. What are your favorite holidays?”

With that simple statement and question, you stop pushing that rock up the mountain. You will be controlling the direction of the conversation. You are using the tools of a skilled diplomat. You have finessed the criticism.

Then exhale. There is even a slight possibility you could have a pleasant brief conversation with her.

And get another appetizer.

In the next blog in the series I help you better set your expectations for all of the ups and downs that come with the holidays. Then I share a great process to use for dividing chores to get ready for the holidays. And finally, I give you a ‘brain hack' to tackle a few other possible stressors that might come your way.

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Peter Pearson, Ph.D.

Dr. Peter Pearson, Ph.D., Relationship & Teamwork Expert for Entrepreneur Couples Pete has been training and coaching couples to become a strong team since 1984 when he co-founded The Couples Institute with his psychologist wife, Dr. Ellyn Bader. Their popular book, “Tell Me No Lies,” is about being honest with compassion and growing stronger as a couple. Pete has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including “The Today Show,” "Good Morning America,” and "CBS Early Morning News,” and quoted in major publications including “The New York Times,” “Oprah Magazine,” “Redbook,” “Cosmopolitan,” and “Business Insider.”

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