Ask Dr. V: How to Have a Peaceful Holiday with Relatives Who Don’t Get Along

Venus Nicolino, Ph.D. of clinical psychology, answers your questions in this section. This week: how to have a peaceful holiday with relatives who don’t get along.

Are you hosting Thanksgiving this year? Are the visions of a delicious turkey perfectly roasted with an afternoon of football, pumpkin pie and an enjoyable holiday superimposed with images of squabbling relatives who can’t make it through appetizers without arguing and effectively ruining the holiday for everyone? If you are hosting the family Thanksgiving dinner this year and have qualms about what the day will turn out to be, here are some tips to make the holiday pleasant and stress free for everyone.

Tip #1, Stagger arrival times: If dinner is at 3 p.m. and you typically ask guests to arrive at 1 p.m. to enjoy appetizers and pleasant conversation before the turkey is served, consider staggering your guests’ arrival times. If Aunt Mary and cousin Joseph simply cannot tolerate each other’s presence for more than a few hours, ask Aunt Mary to arrive at twelve to assist you in the kitchen while letting Joseph know that dinner will be served promptly at three. This will reduce the amount of time that your quarreling relatives have to spend in each other’s company while not leaving anyone out for Thanksgiving dinner. If Aunt Mary decides she has had enough of Joseph, she can leave after dessert while still having enjoyed several hours with her family. The less time squabbling relatives have to be in each other’s company, the less time there is for tensions to mount with the possibility of an eruption.

Tip #2, Limit the serving of alcoholic beverages: Many family arguments are fueled by the consumption of too much alcohol. Alcohol can loosen inhibitions and cause people to say things they would otherwise keep to themselves. By only keeping a bottle of two of wine or a small amount of beer in the house, you can be sure that your guests will not overindulge while still being able to enjoy a drink with their dinner.

Tip #3, Assign seating at the thanksgiving dinner table: If your family enjoys casual seating and typically just grabs a seat wherever they choose, you may want to create place cards and assign each family member a designated seat at the table. If your squabbling relatives are seated on opposite ends of the table being distracted by conversation with other family members, this may be enough to keep an argument at bay. However, if two family members who don’t get along are forced to sit next to each other, this could be a recipe for disaster.

Tip #4, Put your foot down: Hosting Thanksgiving dinner for an extended family can be stressful enough. The host should not have to worry about the fallout from a family feud on the holiday. Simply letting your relatives know that you expect a peaceful and enjoyable Thanksgiving celebration may be enough to prevent a family blowout. Reminding them of the nature of the holiday may even help to build bridges between relatives who have issues with each other.

Tip #5, Consider leaving a difficult relative off the guest list: This may seem harsh but if you have a difficult relative who typically ruins the holidays with their refusal to let bygones be bygones, this may be the year they just don’t get an invitation. This is indeed a drastic measure and should only be used in the case of emergencies, but unfortunately may at some point be necessary to ensure the peacefulness of the holiday for the rest of the family. There is no reason why the entire family should suffer through an uncomfortable and unhappy Thanksgiving due to one relative who can’t just enjoy the day and let personal grudges go with one or several other family members.

Preparing and serving a Thanksgiving meal to loved ones should be a happy and satisfying experience. At the end of the day you want to send off your relatives with leftovers and joyful memories of the day. If you are concerned that bickering relatives will turn the holiday into an unpleasant and stressful day, employ these tips to enjoy a festive and satisfying holiday.

Good luck,

Dr. V

Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to call or email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.

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