3 ways to side-step Christmas arguments around the dinner table

Despite the mulled wine, mince pies and goodwill, the Christmas season can feel testing at times, with family dynamics causing simmering tensions and arguments.

Navigating family relationships can be a daunting task; especially when mixing strong personalities with too much bubbly. However, arming ourselves with helpful strategies to navigate trickier social interactions can help us to maintain composure.

Read on for our expert-backed advice to sail through the season argument-free.

3 ways to avoid family arguments this Christmas

From navigating opposing political views to handling a loved one’s probing questions, family get-togethers can sometimes feel like an exercise in self-restraint. However, knowing who we’re going to be pulling crackers with can help us to prepare ahead of time.

“The advantage you have with family is that you can often predict what kind of questions you might get asked by whom, which allows you to prepare in advance,” says chartered psychologist, Dr Jo Perkins.

“When we’re with family we often step into our default role of being a child, but being an adult means that you’re not obliged to share anything with anyone. Ahead of a visit, you should try to consider different family members and potential questions they could ask. How do you feel about the prospect of being asked that question by that person? Reflect on why you feel this way, as it will help you to plan how you want to manage situations.”

Here are three strategies to employ for some of the more common disagreements we might encounter around the Christmas table.

How to respond to the person who wants relationship gossip

When that well-meaning family member turns into a relationship detective, the best way to handle their intrusive questions is with a dash of humor. Being mysterious or defensive can create more tension, interest, or conflict.

“With these types of questions, you need to set clear boundaries,” says Jo. “If asked a question you’re not comfortable discussing or answering at this precise time or in that particular setting, state politely but firmly ‘I’d rather discuss this instead’ or ‘I’m happy to talk about it but not at the moment, let’s catch up another time when we are on our own.’”

Some other ways to redirect the conversation could include:

  • Saying ‘When I have any news you will all be the first to know, trust me’ or ‘all in good time.’
  • Being firm and responding with something like, ’Honestly things aren’t great right now and I want to have a break from thinking and talking about it, I hope you understand’.
  • Offer a bland but positive answer, ’My relationship is going well at the moment, no major headlines to report!’
What to say if a family member wants to get into a debate

It’s not unusual for family get-togethers to feature debates about politics, but getting into these kinds of conversations can lead to heightened tensions, especially when it also involves alcohol.

“Try to have some topics prepared that you can use to steer the conversation in a different direction,” advises Jo. “If appropriate, you can use humour to diffuse the situation. Say: ‘This kind of conversation gives me indigestion,’ or be direct and say that you prefer not to discuss politics with loved ones as you want to avoid any tension, especially at this time of year.”

It’s a good idea to keep an eye on alcohol intake as this can make it hard to stick to planned strategies. But, if all this fails and we find ourselves in a debate, trying to stay calm and resisting engaging in unhealthy, well-trodden battles can be key.

How to handle the family member who overshares

We all have that one family member who doesn’t quite grasp the concept of personal space. Handling this particular character involves some trial and error, but avoiding ‘you’ statements, such as ‘you always do this’, can be helpful. Instead, sticking with ‘I’ statements, for example ‘I don’t want to have/feel comfortable with this conversation’, can feel less confrontational.

“For this situation, try to position another ally within your family for when things get too much,” says Jo. “That way, you can signal to each other and between you shift the conversation or dynamic.”

Another way that we can avoid spending too much time with this family member is to adopt the role of the ‘helper’. Trips to the kitchen can provide valuable time out of the situation. The host might be especially appreciative of an extra pair of hands, too!

“Just make sure that you’ve got an exit strategy prepped,” adds Jo “Remember you don’t have to stay in a situation that you aren’t comfortable in.”

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