The drama: Your mom makes you feel like you're 12 years old again. Your mother starts critiquing your job or gives you a dirty look when you pour another glass of wine, and you feel yourself reverting into a sulky, pouty teen -- and then you beat yourself up for acting like such a baby.
"Often a parent's critique is a show of concern. They think about what they were anxious about at your age and project it onto you," says Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., author of "If You Had Controlling Parents." Understanding that it's really just their insecurities popping up will make it easier to bear. Then, distract the pesky relative by turning the convo to focus on her. Ask her where she got her sweater or what she hated about her job at your age.
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The drama: Your dueling sisters-in-law start bickering. Awk-ward. Be the hero by breaking the tension with some well placed humor. "People get tense during this season, so tempers flare," says Neuharth. "Saying something funny that doesn't put anyone down will remind everyone that they should be having a good time." Try a line like, "If we're getting this heated already, imagine what will go down when we're all fighting for the last piece of pie."
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The drama: Uncle Larry is "overserved" and starts ranting. While it's sometimes entertaining, this problem can also be a total nightmare ... especially if liquor makes this relative mean. "Don't engage someone that is intoxicated, or you risk making it worse," says Neuharth. A better bet is to ignore them completely and tell everyone else to do the same. If the drunk in question has no audience for his freegan rants, he'll become less of a problem. Then stealthily place lots of water and food within reach.
The drama: You see your recently divorced/fired/widowed cousin and aren't sure what to say. You can say nothing, or acknowledge it and move on -- and the second is the kinder way to go. "Ending a relationship brings on a lot of feelings of isolation," says Neuharth, as do other major life events. By ignoring a major part of their life, it makes them feel even more alone. That said, don't throw a million questions at them and make them dwell on it. Let the person know you heard about what happened, and if they need to talk you're there. Then, if they don't bite, switch subjects to something more festive and fun.
The drama: Everyone wants to know when you and your guy are getting engaged/having a baby. Your instinct may be to tell them to mind their own business. You wouldn't be totally in the wrong, but it may make the people asking think you're insecure about it. "Keep a lighthearted tone, but say something that doesn't allow for any more questions," says Neuharth. Here's a good line: "We haven't talked about it, but you'll be the first to know when we do." It's breezy and lets the person know you aren't ready to discuss it.
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Forget bad weather and airport security lines -- the biggest holiday stresser, by far, is forced family time. Here, five common situations that crop up when you're with relatives, even those you love -- and how to get through them sanely.
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