Mental Health

Dealing With Annoying Family During the Holidays

November 5, 2018

Dealing With Annoying Family During the Holidays

We are all fully aware that the holidays are just around the corner. As I write this blog, Thanksgiving is just a couple weeks away; Christmas about six weeks away. Many of us are planning menus, looking for sales and, for the first time in a long time, looking forward to time with family.

Or are we?

Are we Looking Forward to Holiday Family Time?

True, we might be planning fabulous menus and looking for the best sale on certain must-have items for gifting – but sometimes we are not looking forward to spending time with family. Maybe you’ve got a cranky uncle; a never-on-time sister; a politically incorrect brother-in-law, or a mom who is never happy. There’s a little secret that many share but rarely speak of at this time of year – or any time of year – some of our relatives are downright annoying.

There. I said it.

Sometimes certain family members can be annoying, irritating, or frustrating to deal with. But we all know that these cranky, late, angry family members are going to be invited to the holiday celebration. They are family, and deep down we really do love them. This year, why not consider something a bit different? While you are planning ahead for menus and gifts, why not also plan ahead for how to manage those difficult situations with frustrating family members. Oftentimes, planning ahead can help us feel more confident as we walk into a celebration or open that front door to greet the family.

Tips to Keep the Holidays Enjoyable

Sleep Keeps us Refreshed

Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Sleep helps us in so many ways – it replenishes and refreshes us to face the new day. It can be challenging this time of year, but one of the big rewards of getting enough sleep is to be able to think more rationally in even the most challenging of situations.

Avoid Alcohol with Impairs Thought Processes

And speaking of thinking, watch the alcohol consumption. Alcohol impacts our thought process significantly and can cause us to speak without thinking. Thinking clearly and responding appropriately are much easier when alcohol is not putting parts of our brain to sleep.

Find a Family Buddy

Enlist a trusted adult family member to help with the annoying relative. Sometimes just knowing someone is there to help – a spouse, a brother, or aunt – can reduce stress and increase confidence in how to manage these types of situations. It doesn’t feel quite so lonely when you know there’s help just a few chairs away. I’ve known some family members to go as far as to create a secret code to alert the other that trouble’s brewing. The code can be anything from “Where’s the cat?” to “I wonder how Joe is doing today.” (Keep in mind, there really is no cat, and there’s really nobody named Joe.) I encourage people to avoid using codes such as, “This is delicious.” and “Could I have some more turkey?” because those are things that are undoubtedly going to be said anyway.

Encourage Everyone to Express Thankfulness

Consider a mealtime prayer or going around the table so each guest can remark on someone or something they’re thankful for or feel blessed to have in their life. This takes a little time to do, depending on how many are at the table – making it an excellent way to reduce tensions, generate time to listen to others, and maybe even create an opening for pleasant conversation during or after the meal.

Be Prepared with Conversation Starters

Consider generating two or three questions to ask other family members if one of the more annoying family members starts to get even more annoying. Many years ago, I read a statement that said, “In order to be seen as interesting, be interested.” I cannot remember where I read this, but it’s such a great idea! Think ahead about ways to show interest toward others. Ask about someone’s first semester at college, another’s new job, an upcoming vacation or complimenting a bracelet. Be curious and be kind! There are many options. And you can also weave in something from #4 above if you choose.

I recognize everyone has to consider their own circumstances, family situations, and temperaments. But hoping that an annoying family member will have somehow changed since the last time you saw them doesn’t usually work. As a therapist, I often talk with patients about these very situations. There is no doubt that it can be frustrating to deal with certain individuals, and it’s even harder when we’re related to them. We all know that we can’t change other people – the only real option is to change ourselves. I invite you to consider the option of changing your own response to the annoying family member. Changing your response may actually help reduce your stress and increase your enjoyment of the day!

Please let me know of any ideas you might have. It’s always fun to hear how others manage these types of situations, and your idea may help someone else.

Find a CHI Health Mental Health Therapist to set up an appointment today.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Original post date: November, 2015. Revised: November, 2018. Revised, November 2021. Revised August 2022. 

  1. Terry Lindsley

    Liked the thoughts on "annoying family members" during the holidays. I think every family has them. Peace and thanks, Terry Lindsley, on-call chaplain, Mercy hospital/ council bluffs

  2. Gary Pool

    Sorry to disappoint you with your comments about how to get through the holidays with family. I AM the cranky, mad about everything, politically incorrect, jerk that everyone hates to see coming so I have better advice on this subject. JUST STAY HOME. Everyone will be much happier without me around anyway. Done with family get together.

  3. Rebecca

    When one has a family member suffering from a wide variety of anxiety disorders: OCD, Bi Polar, PTSD and being an adult child of an alcoholic, things can become deeply difficult for everyone else. Being interested in others at the table and asking questions about their pursuits and interests will raise the gall of someone so afflicted with the above, as they feel left out abandoned and no longer the center of attention. The code words sound wonderful, and could be very helpful for individuals who have entered a place where they have no idea how to deal with a tirade, an accusation, or the paranoia so frequent in people suffering from these acute anxiety disorders. We know it is best not to ruffle feathers, to agree when we don't agree, but often the manipulation, pouting, sometimes yelling, accusations, etc., while not their fault when they are dealing with severe disorders, still can become exhausting if not overwhelming to those at the opposite end of a tirade. Still, they are part of the family, need desperately to be included, and usually a kindly therapist is not at the "dinner table." It is so hard. And even when we expect a sudden change of emotion, it can still sometimes be a shock coming out of nowhere, leaving us all wondering, what do we do? How do we respond? How do we defuse? Even a hug or encouragement or attention or a loving gesture for the one suffering so acutely from so many of the above maladies, can be taken as a snide passive aggressive manipulation, and things escalate from there. Everyone might remain calm and reassuring...but...still...

  4. Jill

    Code words? Great idea. Childish behavior is always the best way to deal with "annoying" relatives.

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