4 tips for a feud-free family gathering

Thanksgiving dinner
Family gatherings can be stressful. University of Minnesota professor William Doherty has tips on how to keep the drama out of those gatherings.
Gonzalo Bacigalupe | Creative Commons via Flickr 2009

Millions of Americans will be sitting down together over the coming weeks to break bread, catch up, reminisce and do their best to avoid talking about embarrassing or hot-button issues.

Many will fail.

Holidays are "the most intense family time of the year," says William Doherty, a family social science professor at the University of Minnesota.

"At the holidays, you tend to get all the generations together at the same time for extended periods of time and with a lot of tasks to do — meals to prepare, gifts to exchange ... some of the normal distance-regulating patterns break down. You're just eyeball-to-eyeball for long stretches."

Here are four tips from Doherty for avoiding family drama.

1) Have reasonable expectations

Don't go into it thinking everybody is going to magically get along just because it's a special occasion.

And recognize that people aren't going to suddenly change. If Cousin Eddie has always been overly dramatic about everything, he'll probably be overly dramatic again this year.

2) Craft your response now

If you're tired of Uncle John asking you about your love life or Aunt Beth bringing up that time you split your pants in front of everyone at graduation, work on crafting your response now. In fact, you should have started preparing right after last year's gathering, while it was still fresh on your mind.

"The thing about families is that they tend to be predictable. If the same people that ask you the same annoying questions year after year, it's not a surprise," Doherty says. "What you can do is come up with and rehearse an answer."

What if you're caught off-guard?

Doherty says be humble, go with the flow but push back gently to make it clear you don't want to continue down that conversational path.

In the above example with Aunt Beth, try something like: "How kind of you to bring that up," Doherty says.

3) Don't engage with the people who want to debate

Be willing to let comments go and redirect the conversation, unless you think your integrity is being violated. Then simply say something like, "Well, not everybody sees it that way."

And if someone keeps pressing the issue, Doherty says look them in the eye and ask to change the topic.

But whatever you do, don't tell someone their opinions are absurd.

4) Apologize

If you do lose your temper for whatever reason, say you're sorry — the sooner, the better.

"People tend to be very forgiving if someone apologizes," Doherty says.

But be genuine. Don't sneak in a dig that someone else was the cause of the blowup.

Bonus: Hello? It's Adele, here to save the day

On a lighter note, if none of that works, you can always just rely on the power of Adele.

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