Dealing with ‘difficult’ family members at Christmas

15 December 2015 - by Hannah Mottishaw


The over-bearing mother-in-law, the outspoken critic, the teenager who doesn’t want to be there – we all have that relative who is best kept at arm’s length, but how do you deal with them?

For many of us, the phrase ‘you can’t choose your family’ never rings truer than during the festive season. And, unfortunately, sometimes it’s not just family; the people they are married to can be a majestic pain in the backside too.

We asked psychologist and relationship therapist Graham Price for his tips on how to cope with ‘difficult’ family members over the Christmas period.

Try to understand the other person’s perspective

Price says that when others irritate us, it’s worth remembering that it’s most likely to be unintentional. They are probably doing their best to be reasonable but it is each of your attitudes, abilities, strengths and weaknesses that can cause you to clash.

“Try to understand the other person’s perspective. It’s different from your own. Criticising others because they have a different perspective is denying those differences,” he explains. “The aim is not to find blame but to resolve issues and move forward.”

Acknowledge your buttons

Do you have a relative who really knows how to push your buttons? Price says that when others push our buttons, it has as much to do with our ‘buttons’ as it has to do with their behaviour. “Acknowledge your own buttons and try not to blame them on the other person.”

Use the word ‘I’

Rather than criticising the person who is upsetting you, Price advises using ‘I’ statements. For example, don’t name-call, instead say, “I get a bit upset when you do that” or “I’m not blaming you but I’d appreciate your help to deal with my problem”. This approach will usually work better than criticism.

Don’t make assumptions

A lot of conflict is grown on the fertile ground of assumption. Price says that rather than assuming what others might be thinking of you, you should ask them. “Don’t expect them to read your mind.”

Leave the past in the past

It is easy to dwell on things that have happened previously but in order to move past conflict with a loved one, Price says we shouldn’t focus on past events. “Let them go and focus on making a better future.”

About Graham:

Graham W Price is a chartered psychologist, CBT therapist, relationships specialist, coach, development trainer and professional speaker. He is a practicing member of the British Psychological Society (BPS) and an accredited member of the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP). He offers free webinars teaching resilience, confidence and relationship skills. See


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