Communication Tactics That Make Family Visits Go Smoother
If they say that your friends are the family you choose, then I’ll add that your family are the friends who won’t go away. If you think about it, you wouldn’t tolerate half the BS, trauma, and drama your family puts you through in a friend. You’d just ditch that friend immediately. But you don’t have that choice with your family. You just have to survive dynamics and relationships that aren’t quite what you wish they were. If you’re one of those lucky individuals who count your family members as some of your best friends and just lights up at the thought of seeing them, then perhaps this post isn’t for you. As for the rest of us who come from, perhaps, toxic families at worst and infuriating ones at best, we do not get all giddy as the holidays come around because they mean a lot of time with our bloodline. But, you can escape this one alive if you use these communication tactics that make family visits go smoother.
Say, “I’ll look into that”
Advice and recommendations are lobbed at you constantly—you should see this hairdresser instead of your current one, you should really switch to this diet, and you should invest in this fund. Guess what? You don’t need to debate with the individual on the validity of her advice. You can just say, “Interesting—I’ll look into that.” The advisor will be satisfied, and then she’ll probably never follow up to see if you “looked into that”.
Try, “You make a good point”
Your family will make plenty of “good points” when you visit. For example, they may state that if you and your partner don’t have kids soon, you may feel very lonely in old age. What are you to do? Make a baby, right then and there, in front of them? Nah. You can just say, “You make a good point” and they’ll feel heard.
Change the subject expertly
Become an expert at changing the subject. You know there are some topics that, if you let your family member get onto them, she’ll just get worked up and upset. When you see one of those topics cropping up, divert.
Ask them more questions
People love to talk about themselves. The more people talk about themselves to you, the more they feel close to you. It’s just human nature. So don’t forget that, if you want the attention off of you, you always have this trick in your back pocket: ask everyone else plenty of questions about their lives. Their self-involvedness will override their curiosity about you.
Let them vent
Sometimes, family just need to vent. Maybe your parents want to vent about feeling like you dedicate more time with your partner’s family than your own or the fact that you don’t keep up family traditions. Your instinct is to stop them at every sentence and defend yourself. But you know what? This will all be over sooner if you don’t. They will probably feel better, just having you listen. You don’t have to address or fix their concerns right now. Just listen. That can be enough.
Talk about someone else
When you’re really in a corner, you can always just bring up that one problematic family member about whom everyone has lots of opinions. Talking about that person keeps people busy for hours, and makes you look instantly better by comparison.
Get them onto a favorite topic
My mom, for example, could talk about shopping and bargains for a long time. If she’s on my case about something, I just ask her where I can find a good cardigan in town and everything’s fixed.
Compliment, compliment, compliment
Is there a family member who always criticizes you? Come in hot with the compliments. Counteract her negativity, before she even has the chance to start. People who criticize usually do so because they’re insecure, so make them feel confident.
Not every comment warrants a response
This can be hard to get used to but, the truth is not every comment warrants a response. You don’t need to reply to every annoying or accusatory statement sent your way. Besides, there is plenty of family around—the person who is bothering you will be distracted by something else any minute now.
Embrace and breathe through repeated fights
You know that argument that you and your mom always get into? Or that you and your sibling always face? Try embracing the idea that this issue will never be solved, but that your relationship can go on and thrive in spite of it. This fight is just a little tradition you have. You get it out of the way, and you go back to your lives.
Ask how you can help
Being of service keeps you out of the critical eye of family members. Wake up in the morning, and begin helping to make breakfast or shovel the driveway immediately. Busy hands don’t get dragged into meaningless arguments.
Give each person dedicated time
Your family doesn’t need much to feel like you paid attention to them, but they’ll feel like you gave them nothing if you were just scattered the entire time. Set aside a small window to dedicate to each family member, individually. That could be a simple walk with the dogs or coffee date. This should stop those “We barely talked” accusations at the end of the visit.
Stay out of cluttered discussions
Those silly disputes over who should make the cranberry sauce or where to go to dinner—just stay out of them. There are usually too many people involved in those discussions as is. Someone will make a decision, and you can just sit back and wait for that to happen. It’s best to not put in your two cents, than to get in a fight about it.
Admit when you need alone time
It’s okay to tell everyone you need a little alone time. It may be necessary, in order to refuel and get ready to deal with more of their chaos. You can also carve out alone time by volunteering to run an errand.
When in doubt, smile, nod, and know it’s over soon
Just remember that you will all go back to your separate lives soon. This ecosystem is only temporary. You don’t need to expend energy, fighting to make this little world work—in a few days, it will dissipate and you can go back to your friends.