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Talk Takeaway: Relationships with Dr. Michelle Callahan

Posted on Nov 20, 2012 10:45am

Check out Dr. Michelle Callahan's tips on avoiding conflict with family members during the holidays!

TIP:  Be complimentary, not critical.

There are some people who don't realize that nothing but negative things are flying out of their mouth.  They do it to no end.  And what are they trying to accomplish?  When you go to someone's house as a guest and they cook for you and clean for you -- be complimentary.  Say what you like!  There is no reason to complain about their food or how they're dressed.  If you don't like the food, find something you DO like.  On the flip side, if you see someone being over critical, it would be best to pull that person to the side.  If this is something the person does all the time, you're probably used to it.  It's one of those things that you just suck up.  We say, "Oh, that's just how crazy Auntie Sharon is!"  But you'd like to think the person can change those patterns.  Doing this could really be a wakeup call to the negative person.  On the other hand, they might say, "Oh, well I don't mean anything by it."  If that's the case, they respond by saying, "If you don't mean anything by it, then what was the point of saying it?"  It's like the old saying, if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all.  

TIP: Be thankful, not resentful.
What's happening here is that Sheryl is taking away from the focus of the day.  This is supposed to be happy family time together.  Ranting about personal problems is a major distraction and turns you into a Debbie Downer.  Everyone is trying to have a good time and be grateful for what they have, and you're putting out a lot of heavy personal stuff on the table. If you see it happening, and if the person is going and going about their problems, you need to grab them and say, "I know you're really struggling with some things right now.  Can we spend some time later tonight or maybe tomorrow talking about this more at length?"  When people have outbursts like that it's so obvious how pressing it is to the person.  They're dealing with so much pain that they're being inconsiderate to those around them.  So you don't want them to feel like you're ignoring their problems or sweeping them under the rug.  You just want to impart on them that it's inappropriate to be bringing it up around the Thanksgiving table.   I'm sure they can find something positive to say that they're thankful for.

TIP: Be sensitive about revealing "breaking news."
Yes, it's important when you're ready to reveal to your child that they're adopted.  The problem here is that you're in the middle of a holiday celebration, which is absolutely the worst time to do it!  Any news that is a very sensitive topic or could elicit a very emotional reaction should be shared in a private setting – for example, a divorce, or upsetting health news, or even coming out of the closet.  There are going to be a ton of questions and you'll want to talk about it together.  I understand why people do this: they figure that it's something they want to share with everyone when you're all together.   But any revelation that could be hurtful or distressing to someone in the room, that's something you want to avoid saying.  What ends up happening is that the entire focus of the day shifts from the holiday and the family being happy, to how do we address this new situation.  The only "breaking news" that's okay to share in my opinion is happy news, like an engagement – like AISHA did – or a pregnancy.

TIP: Be calm and keep the peace.
The holidays are a time to get together and enjoy each other's company.  We're often not sensitive enough to realize that we bring a lot of the drama unnecessarily.  If you simple think before you speak you can avoid a lot of the problems.  
Let things from the past go.  Families get together and they just rehash old problems.  You fall into old patterns of behavior.  Adult siblings are jealous of each other, or competitive with each other.  Some people hate holiday gatherings because there is always so much drama!  Plus, there is drinking involved, and that is often times why things get said that should not be said.  
Learn when to just drop it.  It's the holidays you don't get together that often.  I know that people are stressed.  That often leads to people being short-tempered.  You hear things like "Get out of my kitchen!" or "I'm going to do this my way!"  People get into that kind of mode.  The advice is almost like, keep calm and carry on.  Keep things mellow.  Resist the urge to engage in an argument.  Let things go that you might want to say something.  It's a good time to give people a pass on certain things.  Say to yourself, "I'm not getting into it with this person no matter what they say.  I'm going to laugh things off."  Say what will keep the peace, not start an argument.  

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