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Families, as we know, come in all shapes and sizes. Some members of the family we like and some we don’t. There is no problem, generally, with those we like, but those we don’t like can prove tricky to deal with, especially at Christmas. The counsellors at Relationships Ireland are well used to dealing with issues pertaining to families.
When we are in a relationship and are close to our partner we are also, unwittingly, in a relationship with his/her family. In committing to an intimate relationship we are also linking in with both our partner’s close relatives but also his/her extended family. We need to remember they are all individuals with their own likes and dislikes and prejudices and history. So how do we manage this disparate group of people we might not meet that often?
We need to remember that our partner may (hopefully) love us but that doesn’t necessarily mean his/her family will also love us. They, unfortunately, will have made, and will continue to make judgments about us. The first thing to remember is not to gossip or pass any negative comment about your partner’s family. You are, and to many members of his/her family, always will be a ‘blow in’.
Meeting family members who are ‘difficult’ is your judgment, or the judgement of others. So, if possible, try not to pass judgment. Take people as they are without trying to ‘work them out’. They may like you or not like you and that is their problem. You can only do your best. Be diplomatic, smile and remember to be mannerly and courteous. We must take the middle way. You will never please everybody. The underlying politics in every family can have a history that goes back generations so don’t get involved or pass an opinion. This is very difficult if we get seduced into believing that our opinion is important and valued. So if possible be the master of equivocation and obfuscation.
I suppose we need to learn the difficult art of diplomacy and tact. One of the best ways to deal with difficult family members, and get them on our side is to listen to them. This is difficult when in reality we cannot abide them for whatever reason. But as ‘the diplomat’ we need to hone your skills. Remember we only need to listen and not give an opinion. The more difficult the relative the more complimentary and unctuous we must be. We are in the business now of winning friends and influencing people. This will pay dividends in the years to come.
Christmas is a time when too much food and drink is consumed. This inevitably leads to arguments or short tempers. If we drink too much our mouth could run away with us. Once something negative is said we cannot take it back no matter how sincere the apology. We cannot change our relatives, we can only change our way of dealing with them. So, as in other cases, we need to think about our behaviour and attitudes.
If we have to be in the company of ‘difficult’ relatives try and get to know them more. This is where we can practice our diplomatic skills. They may have a negative view of us and now may be the opportunity to change that view. Ask them if they would like to come out for a walk with you. Getting out in the fresh air and getting some exercise is always a good idea anyway, especially at Christmas. You can try and find out what you have in common and help build a bond. Ask them to talk about themselves and compliment them. It’s worth remembering that probably underneath this (maybe) gruff exterior is a nice person. So what has happened to change them? Most people if we put in the effort to get to know them are good and genuine people.
Some relatives just won’t like us for whatever reason. We need to get over it. As long as we follow some of the suggestions outlined earlier we should be able to get through most occasions. Also remember we, hopefully, are not going to end up living with them. So we just have to survive for a few hours. It is also not compulsory to like every relative. As I said at the beginning they are individuals who just happen to be related to our partner. Just be careful what you say about them when asked for your opinion from your partner. They will have their opinion, and you might have yours but you don’t have to give it. That piece of advice applies to lots of other situations as well. Don’t think that just because it is the Christmas season normal rules of behaviour don’t apply, but let me tell you they do!