IT’S ALL REL­A­TIVE

There’s a rea­son why Hol­ly­wood makes movies about hol­i­day gath­er­ings gone awry: We can all re­late. Flip the script this year by arm­ing your­self with yule fuel – strate­gies for deal­ing with all the var­i­ous play­ers in your sea­sonal game of life. |

Best Health - - CONTENTS - by CAITLIN AGNEW

Ditch the hol­i­day din­ner drama. Here’s how to han­dle dif­fi­cult loved ones like a pro.

IN THE 1995 FILM HOME FOR THE HOL­I­DAYS, Clau­dia Lar­son re­turns to her par­ents’ house for Thanks­giv­ing, where she is con­fronted by the wacky and dif­fi­cult re­al­i­ties of fam­ily. “When you go home, do you look around and won­der, Who are these peo­ple? and Where did I even come from?” she asks.

Ac­cord­ing to An­drew Sofin, a li­censed cou­ples and fam­ily ther­a­pist and psy­chother­a­pist based in Mon­treal, these feel­ings are com­mon. “We cre­ate sto­ries around our fam­i­lies, es­pe­cially in North Amer­ica,” he says. “We’ve cre­ated this idea about how fam­i­lies are sup­posed to be quite ho­moge­nous en­ti­ties. The idea is that your fam­ily should re­flect who you are, so we take it per­son­ally if some­body [is] dif­fer­ent.”

While many sim­ply try to eat the pain away, there are less-fat­ten­ing cop­ing mech­a­nisms. “First and fore­most, check your ex­pec­ta­tions at the door,” says Sofin. Be­fore at­tend­ing your next hol­i­day din­ner, write down the guest list and add two sen­tences next to each name: one that says what you like about the per­son and one that says what you dis­like. “You’ll go into it with a dif­fer­ent frame of mind,” he says. For in­stance, if you have an aunt who is par­tic­u­larly nosy, re­mind­ing your­self that she is also warm, wel­com­ing and sweet will help you re­al­ize that her in­quis­i­tive­ness stems from the heart.

While there are no hard and fast rules to eti­quette, go­ing in with a game plan can make for a win­ning evening. Here, we break down the most com­mon (ahem) dif­fi­cult per­son­al­i­ties you may share ta­ble space with this hol­i­day sea­son with ex­pert ad­vice on how to han­dle any sit­u­a­tion with grace, dig­nity and com­pas­sion – or at

least make it through to dessert in one piece.

THE PLAYER THE KNOW IT ALL THE CHAL­LENGE

We’ve all heard the say­ing that fa­ther knows best. But whether it’s your dad, un­cle, mom or pesky older sis­ter, get­ting un­wanted ad­vice from a fam­ily mem­ber can trig­ger feel­ings of re­sent­ment from deep within. “Fam­ily mem­bers tend to be much more opin­ion­ated with one an­other than they would be with strangers be­cause of the in­ti­macy of fam­ily life,” says Sofin. While some ad­vice givers may be com­ing from a genuine place of help­ful­ness, oth­ers may use this con­ver­sa­tion tech­nique as a way to dom­i­nate.

THE GAME PLAN

Be gra­cious, don’t take any­thing too per­son­ally and re­mem­ber that their in­ten­tions are good – ei­ther they re­ally want to help or they’re sim­ply look­ing for a way to com­mu­ni­cate with you. “Just deal­ing with that per­son might be as sim­ple as say­ing ‘Thank you, I know you care about my well-be­ing, but I’m not con­cerned about it at this time,’” says Jac­que­line Whit­more, an eti­quette ex­pert based in Florida. It isn’t ne­c­es­sary to take their ad­vice to heart, but it is im­por­tant to ap­pre­ci­ate the sen­ti­ment. “Then the other per­son will feel good, you’re out of the con­ver­sa­tion and you can move on to some­body else,” adds Sofin.

THE PLAYER THE NAUGHTY CHILD THE CHAL­LENGE

Hol­i­days mean ex­cite­ment, which can take a ram­bunc­tious child’s be­hav­iour to the next level. “A lot of the time, a kid just wants at­ten­tion,” says Whit­more, adding that in­dulging him will of­ten soften his be­hav­iour. “De­pend­ing on the age of the child, try to bring him into the con­ver­sa­tion,” she says.

THE GAME PLAN

There’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween a child who is be­hav­ing badly and one whose be­hav­iour you sim­ply dis­agree with. “You might not agree with a child’s fash­ion state­ment, but stay out of it,” says Sofin. “It’s not for you to de­cide.” On the other hand, if a child is putting him­self or some­one else in dan­ger, it’s im­por­tant to tell him to stop with­out get­ting emo­tional and to let his par­ents know. “No­body wants to feel like the worst par­ent ever,” says Sofin. “If you just keep very calm and fac­tual, no­body will freak out. The par­ents will just say ‘Hey, thank you.’” In the ab­sence of a kids’ ta­ble, re­quest to sit with an­other rel­a­tive you’d like to catch up with ahead of time in­stead of spend­ing an en­tire meal next to a trou­ble­some tot.

THE PLAYER THE NOSY NEL­LIE THE CHAL­LENGE

Fam­ily mem­bers of­ten know way more about us than what feels com­fort­able, and you may have one rel­a­tive in par­tic­u­lar who is more pry­ing than oth­ers. When some­one is gos­sip­ing or ask­ing too many per­sonal ques­tions, keep in mind that she is likely gen­uinely in­ter­ested in you and your life. “She is try­ing to fit in and find a way to con­nect with you,” says Sofin.

“If you know that the per­son is nosy and don’t want to share a whole lot about your life, try to be as vague as pos­si­ble,” says Whit­more. “Make a joke or turn the ques­tion around with an­other ques­tion, de­pend­ing on what she asks.” To change the sub­ject, Whit­more rec­om­mends pre­par­ing three top­ics of con­ver­sa­tion that usu­ally go over well dur­ing the hol­i­days: your favourite fam­ily mem­ory, travel and food. “Ev­ery­body can re­late to food and travel, but if you re­ally want to stim­u­late a lively dis­cus­sion, go around the ta­ble and share your fond­est or fun­ni­est fam­ily mem­ory,” she says.

THE PLAYER THE POLITICAL NUT THE CHAL­LENGE

As political be­liefs be­come more po­lar­ized, chances are, there will be some­one at your next fam­ily event who is at the op­po­site end of the spec­trum. While it may seem like a chal­leng­ing di­vide, look at it as an op­por­tu­nity in­stead. “You don’t have to agree on ev­ery­thing,” says Whit­more. “In fact, I think it’s healthy to have op­pos­ing views. If ev­ery­one agreed, it wouldn’t be a stim­u­lat­ing dis­cus­sion.”

“FAM­ILY MEM­BERS TEND TO BE MUCH MORE OPIN­ION­ATED WITH ONE AN­OTHER THAN THEY WOULD BE WITH STRANGERS.”

THE GAME PLAN

Be­fore get­ting into a dis­cus­sion, re­mem­ber that your fam­ily doesn’t need to share all of your be­liefs and their opin­ions don’t say any­thing neg­a­tive about you. “The idea is that your fam­ily should ref lect who you are, so we take it per­son­ally if some­body has a dif­fer­ent political view,” says Sofin. “But at the end of the day, we only have power and con­trol over our­selves.” De­pend­ing on how heated the con­ver­sa­tion be­comes, try chang­ing the sub­ject, tun­ing out your rel­a­tive or head­ing to an­other room, with or with­out that per­son. “Some­times, with this per­son, you might have to say, ‘You know, we’re just go­ing to have to agree to dis­agree on that is­sue,’” says Whit­more.

THE PLAYER THE OVERDRINKER THE CHAL­LENGE

At best, some­one who over­does it on the Pinot might cause em­bar­rass­ment; at worst, she could be a threat to her­self and oth­ers. If you’re host­ing the din­ner, re­mem­ber that you’re re­spon­si­ble for your guests. “If you see that some­body is get­ting out of con­trol, pull her aside pri­vately,” says Whit­more. Keep in mind that there’s usu­ally a mo­tive for overindulging, and it could very well be the same so­cial anx­i­ety that you’re feel­ing. “There’s a rea­son why al­co­hol is a multi-tril­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try,” says Sofin. “It’s a de­pres­sant. It calms peo­ple down and makes them less anx­ious and less stressed.”

THE GAME PLAN

As the host, you can min­i­mize dam­age by no longer serv­ing your un­ruly guest and keep­ing plenty of wa­ter, non­al­co­holic bev­er­ages and food read­ily avail­able. Also, ask your­self why some­one might be drink­ing. “Is she wor­ried be­cause her ex is here?” asks Sofin. “Did she just find out that she owes hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in taxes?” En­gag­ing with your overindulging guest in a non-con­fronta­tional way may bring her trou­bles to the sur­face, which can have a calm­ing ef­fect. But keep in mind that it’s not your job to play fam­ily psy­chol­o­gist or party po­lice of­fi­cer. Sim­ply of­fer­ing to call a cab or let your guest spend the night will suf­fice. b

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