The holidays are a time of togetherness, but for those of us who have annoying relatives, that’s not always a good thing. No matter how Rockwellian your intentions are this are, Aunt Lisa will still pepper you with grating questions, cousin Ronnie will reliably show up an hour and a half late, and your sister-in-law will, as ever, gripe about everything in sight.
We consulted books from experts on how to cope with challenging kin, and they all agreed: Preparation for their quirks is key. "It’s like preparing for a debate," says Jeremy Greenberg, author of Relative Discomfort: The Family Survival Guide. "If you have a game plan ahead of time, it gives you some confidence going into the battle." So prep for some of the most frustrating family situations with these tips from the pros.
Annoying trait: Nothing is ever right, and you’ll always hear about it.
Remedy: "Don’t drain yourself by trying to get them to look on the bright side," says Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. "Just acknowledge that you heard what they said and then try to move on." Kerry Patterson, co-author of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High, suggests redirecting the conversation. [Tweet this tip!] "Change the topic and talk about something positive. Everyone will get it and you give them a shot across the bow without being too direct."
Annoying trait: Short-fused and long on arguments.
Remedy: "Humor is always the magic rabbit you can pull out of your hat," Rubin says. "It is hard to make a joke when everybody’s tempers are flaring, but if you can, do it. You can deflect things with a light touch." Patterson advises calling a time out. "You can even say it with a laugh. Say, 'This is getting a little heated, let's all take a breath and not talk about this now. We’re having a party, let’s focus on enjoying.'"
Annoying trait: Catastrophe lurks around every corner.
Remedy: Patterson suggests establishing common ground with this fretful family member. “You can say, 'I'm kind of a worrier like you, but if I work myself up I won't be able to sleep for two days, so I'm wondering if we can get out of this rut we are in." Felder adds, "You can lovingly say to this person, 'I can give you several reasons why you don't need to worry about that, but if you truly want to worry anyway, I promise not to stop you.'"
Read about four more difficult personalities and how to deal with each at Bookish.com.