4 ways to deal with difficult family at the holidays

Posted at 6:20 AM, Dec 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-04 08:08:13-05

The holidays are a time for families to come together, but sometimes a hot-button topic or prickly personal questions can make for some awkward moments. So in this week’s Living a Better Life series, an expert spells out four ways to deal with difficult family at the holidays.



Dr. Steven Huprich – a professor of psychology at the University of Detroit Mercy – said being caught off guard never makes anybody feel comfortable. So, his number one way to deal with difficult family at the holidays is to be prepared.


“If you’re anticipating the difficult question or the difficult topics, or a difficult person, you sort of know – okay, this is what I’m stepping into, but now I can be more prepared and ready to deal with them,“ explained Dr. Huprich.




From politics to religion…it can get ugly fast. So, Dr. Huprich recommended you think about how to bow out gracefully.


“Particularly if there’s somebody who is very opinionated or doesn’t give up easily on trying to engage you and get into this discussion. Knowing upfront what I want to say about it. ‘Here’s all I’m going to say about it.’ And then kind of thinking -- okay, if they come back with an alternative or they’re trying to say more, what do you want to say back to that then?” Dr. Huprich said.




Remembering your self-worth is especially important if a family member starts being critical or judgmental about you or your life – for example, asking personal questions about your marriage, your job, your fertility.


“You’ve got your ideas. You’re working on something. Or you’ve made decisions not to do something that family members think you should do. Stay true to that,” said Dr. Huprich.




Yes, pick the arguments you want to make by deciding how you want your interactions to impact others.


“You may win that battle if you really come back and tell them what you think, but maybe you lose the war. In other words, does it ruin the day or does some people’s opinion of you get diminished,” he added.


Dr. Huprich said sometimes you need to stand up for yourself. Just remember, speaking to someone privately off to the side of the tree won’t leave the lasting impression of publicly flipping grandma’s neatly set table.


Dr. Huprich also added on a more serious note that if you’ve had relatives who’ve been abusive to you in your past and seeing them will be upsetting, you do not have to go to the gathering. Some relatives may give you grief for not coming, but only you know what your comfort level is.


Bottom line, Dr. Huprich said some people simply lack self-awareness. They don’t pick up on social cues when someone is uncomfortable. So, brainstorming quick responses that can nip that awkward moment in the bud can be part of your “Be Prepared” step.


Let me know on my Facebook page how you’ve responded to some awkward questions. I’d love to hear from you!


Alicia Smith’s Living a Better Life series airs every Tuesday on WXYZ’s 7 Action News This Morning at 6am and The Now at 4pm. If you have a story idea, please email Alicia at with Living A Better Life story idea in the subject line.