Dealing With Difficult Relatives

6 Strategies For Handling Festive Family Friction

Are you dealing with a difficult relative over the festive season? Someone who winds you up, drains your energy or is about as unpleasant as a root canal?

Maybe it’s a meddling mother-in-law, an opinionated uncle, a sulky sister, or a bratty nephew.

Family get-togethers are part and parcel of Christmas, so you need to go in with a game plan.

*Note: If your family gatherings are a picture of perfect harmony – do the decent thing and forward this on to someone who needs it.

Here are 6 strategies for dealing with those tricky family members.

1. Love what is

It’s time to let go of the notion that people ‘should’ – or even can – behave the way you think they ought to. The main source of stress and friction is wishing people were different than they are.

Before the big day, take time to sit quietly and think about how you wish they were. Now prepare to accept them exactly as they are. It doesn’t mean you have to like them or approve of their behaviour. You just need to accept it and stop driving yourself nuts. At best you might find they’re not as bad as you thought. At worst you can be detached from it. (see #2 below)

In her amazing book, ‘Loving What Is’ Byron Katie asks four questions to help you overcome negative feelings towards any person in your life. The results are truly transformational.

2. Wear protection

Unsolicited opinions (expressed with brutal family honesty) can push you to lash out.  Press your mental pause button and switch on your protective shield.

Visualise an invisible shield which you can activate that protects you from negativity, insults and general bad vibes.

It sounds kind of wacky, but don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. When someone’s questioning your gravy making technique, take a deep breath and imagine your protective shield.

When someone’s makes a snide comment or you feel those first signs of being triggered, activate that shield.

While you can’t control anyone else’s behaviour you can control your reaction to it. Rise above it, let it go and refuse to let it affect you.

3. Space out

Decide ahead of time how much you can realistically handle. If one day’s more than enough – don’t invite them (or stay with them) for several. If that’s not possible, give yourself some breathing space. Go hide out in your bedroom with a magazine for an hour, head out to ‘run some errands’, take the dog out for a long walk. Anything to give you some time out so you can re-enter with a fresh frame of mind.

4. See the funny side

My friend Suzie’s mother-in-law once gave her a pair of XL peach nylon pyjamas (she’s an XS) – they would have turned her into a fireball had she stood too close to a naked flame. Pushing aside all thoughts that maybe this was her intent, she chose to see the funny side. (Her MIL’s offerings have since become an amusing Christmas highlight.)  Try not to take things personally and laugh it off whenever possible. See it as extra material for your collection of funny stories.

5. Use them

Are they staying with you and getting in your way? Give them jobs to do – topping up the drinks, handing out nibbles, lighting candles, emptying the trash. Keep ’em busy and out of your way. (After a while they’ll think twice about entering your space.)

6. Kill them

With kindness, of course! Put on your brightest smile and your warmest voice. You never know, killing them with kindness could be just what’s needed to set the needle in a fresh groove and get you dancing to a fresh new tune. (It’s been known to happen!)

If you’ve spent years moaning to your friends about your family, be careful that the problem is not actually you.

Take the first step towards loving them unconditionally. It might just be the best Christmas present you can give them – and yourself.

Your standby mantra to get you through it:  ‘It’s just ___ day/s out of my entire life. I can do this.’

Disclaimer: Some of these strategies require serious levels of zen-like enlightenment. We certainly can’t do all of them all of the time. Choose a couple that resonate with you, give them a whirl and see what happens…

How do you avoid family friction? Share your tactics in the comments box. Please also use the social share buttons to tweet, like and pin!

Here’s a gift for YOU this holiday season – a two-page MY DREAM DECEMBER worksheet! Fill in the blanks and get real clarity over how you want to feel and be (and what needs to get done) this month so you can have your BEST December yet. Jump onto my newsletter list as I send this out to all of lovely subscribers every year!

photo credit: Justin Beckley via photopin cc

website cover - life wheel new

Have you got the FREE & FABULOUS Project Me Life Wheel® yet?  It’ll quickly show you where you’re currently out of balance so you know what needs your focus FIRST.

Enter your first name and email address below:

You will also receive the Project Me newsletter to keep you motivated and inspired in all areas of your life.
I won't bombard you or share your details with anyone - promise.


  1. Pam on December 18, 2013 at 6:57 PM

    These are great! Love the mantra. And thanks for including those two books in here, too. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you both!

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on December 18, 2013 at 7:54 PM

      You’re so welcome Pam! Sending holiday wishes back at ‘cha 🙂 2014 is going to be AMAZING!!

  2. Elizabeth on December 18, 2013 at 8:35 PM

    We are an Australian family now living in London & we have my husband’s parents visiting for Xmas & staying with us for 4 weeks. The in laws & I don’t exactly see eye to eye on most things so I think I need to “wear protection” & let my father-in-laws comments deflect off my suit of armour !! Thanks for reminding me I can get through this.

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on December 18, 2013 at 9:14 PM

      Four weeks Elizabeth?! You will need to pull every one of these strategies out of the bag at one point or another!

      Please know we’re behind you for the full 4 weeks. We check comments daily. Check in and tell us how it’s going, which strategies are working best and if you need any support.

      Your mantra: This is 4 weeks out of my life. I CAN do this.

      May the Force Be With You.

  3. Helen Butler on December 19, 2013 at 12:16 AM

    Fabulous article Kelly and Suzie.

    I recently heard another “shield recipe” which I’ve used and I’d love to share with you.

    What you do is breathe in gold light to your solar plexus area (where your diaphragm is) and make a ball of gold in this space, then breathe in white light to fill the rest of your body, then seal the outside with a strong colour or, even better, spiky bits! That way any negativity bounces off your shield and doesn’t even affect you.

    You may need to top up your gold and/or white during the day but at the end of the day have a shower and wash it off.

    I’ve tried it already and it works a treat! Xx

    • Suzie Shpaizer on December 19, 2013 at 9:26 AM

      Love this Helen! Can’t wait to try it – I’ll let you know how I get on. Thanks for your comment and wishing you a fabulously positive Christmas!

    • Clare Greig on December 19, 2013 at 11:20 AM

      ooh love this Helen

  4. Jana on December 19, 2013 at 7:17 AM

    Hehehehe KILL THEM …. with kindness. LOL that was sooooo funny.

    To answer your question “how do I handle family drama?”

    I like to cut it off at the knees. Everyone in my family knows I do not participate in idle gossip, talking about others, or passive aggressiveness about the way someone is doing/being/handling a situation. I am extremely sensitive to family drama so I have decided it does not enter my realm. I know this sounds impossible, but I have a blended family and I’ve made it happen. I use myself as an example, trying never to talk about another person whne they’re not there. I also really ask myself before I say or comment on something,

    “Is it really necessary what I’m about to say?”
    “Could it be misinterpreted?”
    “Is it best I say nothing at all!?”

    Good questions to have in your arsenal the week of Christmas.

    Love you all and Merry Christmas.

    Love Jana xx

    • Suzie Shpaizer on December 19, 2013 at 9:37 AM

      Hey Jana! You have got this well sorted. Teaching your family that you don’t participate in this kind of negative behaviour is an amazing example to set – well done you. We too have a blended family (I’m loving that phrase) – and I try to do something similar. It’s adapted from a Buddhist practice and I call it THINK.

      Before you say anything ask yourself:

      Is it True?
      Is is Helpful?
      Does it Improve on silence?
      Is it Necessary?
      Is it Kind?

      It’s often challenging but it does make you THINK!

    • Clare Greig on December 19, 2013 at 11:21 AM

      Great advice Jana 🙂

  5. Clare Greig on December 19, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    So great, I love the protective shield. You know it’s funny, I haven’t spent xmas with my family for 11 years because we live on the other side of the globe and we can never muster up the enthusiasm to go mid winter.
    The funny thing is I always desperately miss those big family xmases with the niggling, the rolling of eyes, the comments and the annoying habits. Even though we tend to go away with friends and have a lot of freedom there is a lot to be said for a grouchy family xmas.

  6. Beth on December 15, 2014 at 2:23 PM

    Thank you so much for this… I already know my dog is getting lots of walks this Christmas as I’m staying with my in-laws, who has already refused to accept presents addressed to me which were delivered to their house in advance. So zen-like behaviour from me is certainly required!! Loving the protective shield, I hope it remains intact for four days….***breathe, and winning smile****
    Happy Christmas everyone
    x x

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on December 16, 2014 at 2:32 PM

      Beth – I am sending you extra protective vibes!!! Yes, keep breathing and smiling 🙂 You’ve GOT this!!! Merry Christmas to you!

  7. What To Do If You Don't Like Christmas - Project Me on December 18, 2017 at 1:59 PM

    […] I was nice and I smiled. And when my buttons did get pushed, I went to a quiet room and breathed through it instead of […]

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Browse the Vault

Popular Posts

The Key to finding a happier balance in life. The Project Me for Busy Mother's Life Wheel Tool

The Key to Finding a Better Balance

Daily Planner for moms and mums

How to Design Your Day the Way YOU Want It To Go


Video Training: Learn How to Master Your To Do List