Relationship Connection: Relating to relatives during the holidays

Christmas family woes
Image by Brett Barrett, St. George News

OPINION – Most of us are having some type of personal interaction with family members, both immediate and extended, this week. It’s the nature of this holiday season and something we anticipate, for better or worse.

Now, I want you to consider some questions that could change the way you relate to your family members from this day forward.

What if, instead of going through the motions with certain family members, following the same tired dance and script you’ve been following for years, you decided to break the pattern and open up a new way of relating to them?

What if, instead of offering insincere promises to keep in touch, you got in touch with them right there on the spot while they’re staring you in the face?

What if you dropped all charges against this particular family member and courageously attempted to build a new relationship with them?

What if you chose to hang out with/talk with/pay attention to a family member you’ve avoided at past gatherings?

Let’s think about the purpose of gathering as a family. Why do you go to family gatherings? Do you show up just to do your duty? Or, do you show up to help build something bigger than you that can benefit future generations?

Sometimes we pigeonhole our family members based on past interactions and assume we know who they are. Perhaps we remember them at one particular stage of life and use that as our reference point for all future interactions.

Sure, you could just do the same thing you’ve always done and “auto-pilot” your way through another family gathering and move on to more comfortable and safe interactions with others.

But, what if you didn’t do that this time? What might happen to you? To them?

Since you’re going to be hanging out with these relatives in one setting or another, let me give you a personal challenge to move you out of your comfort zone:

     •  Think of one family member you’ve been avoiding. By the way, “avoiding” can mean many things, including physically moving away from them, keeping all conversations to a minimum, or completely ignoring them while in your presence.

     •  Ask this particular family member some meaningful questions. For example, you can ask them about things they’ve done lately that they’ve enjoyed. You can ask them about their work, children, hobbies, and so on. Really engage them in a conversation and don’t be satisfied with only shallow answers. Your job is to keep them talking. See if you can turn this relationship into something more than a formality you have to get through. See how much you can get to know them as a real person.

     •  Now it’s your turn to talk about you. If they ask you questions about you, answer more than you normally would. Share more details and see how much you can share. Stay with the conversation and see where it goes.

Notice how you feel after engaging with your family member in such an authentic way. Did you learn more about them? Did you learn more about yourself? Did you drop any judgments or prejudices against them that you previously held?

It’s easy to relate to our friends, but it’s more of a challenge to relate to the folks we get to be around time and time again.

Hopefully you can open up a new way of seeing yourself and your family this holiday season as you dare to relate to a relative with interest and authenticity.

Stay connected!


Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Copyright St. George News, Inc., 2012, all rights reserved

Christmas family woes
Image by Brett Barrett, St. George News

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