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  • Writer's pictureCarly Mayo, M.S., LMHCA

Goals for Tough Conversations with Difficult Family Members

As we approach the holiday season many of us are facing an additional

source of stress outside of purchasing presents, tackling Turkey Trots, or

coordinating Christmas cooking. The architect of that anxiety? Family. While

some may find time with their families a source of joy and relaxation, others

know that season’s greetings can quickly turn to rehashing seasoned


Encountering difficult family members during the holidays can make it

hard to enjoy the life-giving elements of the season, and experiences may

have taught you that reaching a peaceful agreement cannot be

accomplished without a mutual desire for change. We can only control how

we respond and, as a result, sometimes the biggest wins we can ask for when

navigating tough encounters with difficult family members come from

within. Below are a few helpful “wins” to consider if you find yourself in

conflict this season:

Win #1: You’ve expressed yourself clearly and concisely.

When a desire for connection and understanding is present (as is

usually the case with family) our pursuit to be understood can get us mired

down in the details. We can talk ourselves into a tizzy and, at the end of the

day, that person may be committed to misunderstanding us regardless of our

attempts. When faced with this situation we can focus our communication

efforts on getting our point across with clarity and tact so that, regardless of

how the other person responds, we know that we did our best to

communicate well.

Win #2: You’ve managed your emotions well.

Do you find yourself getting hotter than the Thanksgiving turkey when

an argument breaks out around the dinner table? Maybe you’re more of a

cold-as-ice type when someone is trying to jingle your bells. Either way, our

emotions can get the best of us during the high-tension holidays and there’s

a good chance we’ve all walked away from a family get-together regretting

how we responded. No one enjoys feeling like that “particular person” has

pressed our buttons yet again, so taking time prior to a gathering to work on

some emotional regulation skills can go a long way towards maintaining your

personal peace in the midst of the Christmas chaos.

Win #3: You’ve set and stuck to boundaries.

Healthy boundary-setting could be an entire blog post in itself (In fact,

here is one for reference!). Some people find their family members chipping

away at or outright invalidating their boundaries during the holidays. For

example, when you planned to leave the gathering (“Oh come on-the kids

want to stay! Tell mommy you don’t want to leave grandma’s house.”) or who

comes to visit (“I know I didn’t tell you I was bringing my boyfriend but it’s not

that big of a deal”). Whether the boundary being set is big or small, the first

person to uphold it will be ourselves. To quote the linked article by Logan

Hailey, “Brene Brown says: “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” The more precise

you can express your boundaries, the more likely your boundaries will be

respected. While you may need to repeat yourself a few times, don’t feel the

need to apologize or explain your boundaries.”.

Whatever the outcome, you can be proud of yourself for expressing and

upholding your boundaries.

We here at Cornerstone Counseling and Wellness know that this time of year

can be full of mixed emotions. We would be happy to help you untangle

them so that you can enjoy your holidays to the fullest. Please contact us

through the “Request an Appointment” tab at the top of this webpage.


Chowdhury, M. R. (2022, September 8). Emotional regulation: 6 key skills

to regulate emotions. Retrieved October 26,

2022, from

Hailey, L. (2022, May 11). How to set boundaries: 5 ways to draw the line

politely. Science of People. Retrieved October 26, 2022, from

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