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6 Strategies for Handling Festive Family Friction

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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 or an opinionated uncle. Perhaps it's 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 some 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 behavior. 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.

In the 'Handbook for the Urban Warrior', The Barefoot Doctor offers a technique of visualising an invisible shield 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 shield.

When you're reaching over for your second (or third) helping and someone makes a snide comment about the diet you're meant to be on, 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'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.

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. You probably 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...

Kelly Pietrangeli is the Creator of Project Me, helping mothers set goals and take charge of their own happiness. Her free Project Me Life Wheel Tool is a great way to see which areas of your life could some fresh goals and an action plan. Click here to give the Life Wheel Tool a spin for yourself.