With Easter around the corner, many families are planning get-togethers with extended family. And while this may be a pleasurable expectation for some people, it can hold a sense of a dread for others. Many even experience elements of both happy expectation and dread at the same time! This isn’t uncommon. The potential for family drama and uncomfortable confrontations is definitely there whenever adults converge on one small space for a few hours. If you’re feeling that sense of resignation or dread about the festivities this weekend (or you’d like to avoid the need for a psychotherapist or marriage counselling next week!), here are three quick tips for having a happy holiday weekend.
- Plan ahead. Don’t tell yourself that this weekend will be different if nothing has really changed. You know the kind of challenges you’re likely to have when you see your family, so don’t just roll your eyes or cringe as you greet everyone at the dinner table. Instead, be prepared. How can you prepare?
- Decide what you will do. Some of the best laid plans fall apart because we focus too much on what we won’t do. “When Mom brings up my marital status, I won’t get angry.” “When my uncle jokes about my business closing, I won’t get defensive.” These kinds of resolutions make sense on the surface, but the problem is that it creates a bit of a vacuum – yes, we’ve decided what actions we won’t take, but what will we do in their place? When your Mom asks about your love life, plan how you’ll respond. Quite literally, think through the words you will say. Then imagine yourself doing just that. Visualization is a powerful too, and it’s a great way to help us feel more comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Right now, in the calm before the storm, you know what you need to do to make the situation run smoother, so plan to do just that and picture yourself being in the room, in the conversation, following through.
- Breathe deeply and often, and remind yourself of your goals. When you change your response, you can bet that whoever you’re talking to will also then change how they’re responding to you. In the best case scenario, this response will be for the better: the conversation will end, or might even result in an apology to you. (Crazier things have happened!) But what’s most likely, is that your difficult family member will continue to be difficult. So be prepared for that. Don’t tell yourself that one witty quip from you will permanently shut down the hurtful conversation with your uncle; remind yourself that you’re free to politely leave the conversation or the room, any time you need to, and be ok with not feeling the need to defend yourself or get into an unwinnable conversation with anyone.
Long-standing patterns or misunderstandings are very unlikely to be resolved over Easter dinner. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself or on the situation. See it for what it is: a gathering of people who may have different opinions, and who aren’t looking to have those opinions changed. It’s ok to let comments slide or keep your own opinions to yourself or avoid certain topics, if it helps you to feel better at the end of dinner. Counselling services can help resolve some of these bigger issues, but as for Easter dinner, just go with the knowledge that having a plan and following through can help you to enjoy this family dinner more than previous ones.