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I know this is a sensitive topic for some of us. Christmas time can be a stressful time for many people because we’re around family members who can be difficult. There can be a family member who we walk on egg shells around. There may be topics that aren’t brought up. There may be past mistakes that have never been discussed or even forgiven.

How do we handle tough situations like this?

Here are 4 Ways to Handle Difficult Family Members at Christmas...

1) Actively Listen

I’ve come to realize that many people have trouble listening. While others are talking, we tend to think about what we will say next, or we take bits and pieces from what is said.

To actively listen means you hear the whole conversation and are able to reflectively respond back to them, telling them what you heard them say. Your thoughts don’t wonder, and you give them eye contact (James 1:19).

Before coming to a conclusion on the person, make sure you know their whole story and be empathetic towards them.

If people know they are heard, they will respect you more for it.

2) Be Assertive

Assertiveness is a way of relating to people in a positive and constructive way. To be assertive means you respect people’s needs, wants, and rights, as well as your own needs, wants, and rights. Assertiveness means you have the ability to ask what you want and need (see Stephen Ministries).

It’s okay to tell people what you think; however, you need to do so in a respectful and honoring way. I believe one of the biggest reasons we have conflict is because we don’t tell people how we are feeling or what we are thinking. If someone continues to hurt you and you say nothing, how will they know they are hurting you?

If you have a problem with someone, don’t talk to others about it, go directly to the source (Matthew 18:15-17).

When confronting someone, remember you can’t control their response. You can only control how you respond.

3) Establish Boundaries: Don’t be a Doormat

Henry Cloud & John Townsend wrote the book Boundaries. In this book, they say: “Good boundaries prevent resentment.”

Sometimes we need to set clear boundaries with a family member who continues to hurt us. One way to do that is to tell them how we feel. You may say something like, “I feel like when I try to talk to you, you don’t listen.” They can’t tell you how to feel or argue with you about how you’re feeling.

Another thing to do is set a boundary and stand by it. Be consistent and let your yes be yes and your no be no. If someone continues to hurt you or your immediate family, you may tell them that if they continue to do specific things, then you will need to leave immediately. If you see them the next month, and it happens, leave and tell them once again why you are leaving.

What I don’t like is for family members to say, “You will never see our kids again” or “I am going to cut this relationship off indefinitely.” You may need to take a break from a destructive family member for a while, but I would not do so indefinitely. I would try to make efforts to reconcile a relationship (Romans 12:18).

4) Forgive

Jesus talks time and time again about forgiveness. Unfortunately a lot of us hold grudges and are bitter towards someone who has wronged us. If you believe in Jesus, you know you have been forgiven for all of your sins. Because we have been forgiven, we should also forgive (Colossians 3:13; Matthew 6:14-15; Ephesians 4:31-32; Matthew 18:21-22).

To love someone means you don’t keep any record of wrongs (I Cor. 13:5).

Don’t let another Christmas season go by with unaddressed problems. Be confident, be gentle, and be firm. Pray that God will give you the strength and wisdom to handle conflict well.

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