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How to Cool Family Drama at the Holidays — and the Rest of the Year, Too

By Maria Menounos | December 7, 2017

Family drama  — who has that? (I‘ll raise my hand.) Any relationship worth having is going to have its share of problems. Whether it’s a best friend, a spouse, a significant other, a sibling, or a parent, those relationships need to be nurtured, and it’s not always easy. Even the closest families or the most perfect romances involve a certain amount of stress, but it’s how we deal with those times and move on from them that matter the most. For me, one of those times was when my father essentially disowned me when Keven — my now fiancé — and I started dating in 1998… And it took years for him to accept Keven and apologize. We’ve come a long way in getting our relationship back on track since then, obviously, but it’s taken a lot of work! I don’t know anyone who’s going to tell you that a good, solid relationship is perfect or easy or always so amazing. It’s like any other working relationship: There will be ups and downs. It’s how you handle them that makes the difference.

Drama Is Going to Happen

I don’t think family drama is avoidable, to be totally honest. For example, if you choose to be with your family for the holidays, you’ll probably find that they still act as if you’re 10 years old, and they’ll treat you like that if you let them. But of course, you're not 10 anymore. And while it’s difficult to find people who realize that you’re, say, a 39-year-old woman, you can’t be forced to eat a certain way or be told what to do or when to wake up! Before you walk into that family dinner, just be prepared for what’s going to come, and try to stay calm while rationally explaining that you don’t need to eat everything on your plate in order to leave the table.

… So Have a Getaway Car

The best defense is a good offense, so have a backup plan in place before you sit down to eat with the parents. If you’re in your hometown, make plans with your best friend from high school to meet up, so you can say you’re doing something later and won’t offend anyone when you make an early exit. And if the night stays drama-free and you’re having a blast with the family, you just don’t go. But having a backup plan is key — and helps you feel calmer, knowing there’s an escape hatch.

You Love, You Fight

I love my fiancé, Keven, so much, and throughout my life, he’s been an amazing partner. In recent months as I recovered from surgery, he’s been the best caretaker to me. But we still argue and fight. That’s what happens after two decades of working together and being together. You fight, but if you ultimately know that you work well together and do complement each other, it works really well. His strengths and my strengths are in different areas, so we’re like a perfect puzzle coming together. We just realize that the arguing is part of the process.

Know How to End an Argument

Everyone has a “tell” that signals they’re ready to move on. Maybe your mom offers you a cup of tea when she’s finished arguing with you; maybe your dad flicks on the TV and asks about a show you’ve been watching. For some people — like me — it can be hard to apologize, even when we want an argument to end. I know how to re-steer the ship when Keven’s mad, and he knows how to re-steer it when I’m mad. He’s really good at apologizing — someone in the couple needs to be! Instead of apologizing, I tend to say, “Do you have something to say to me, honey? and that breaks the ice for us. Then he’s like, “No, you’re supposed to apologize!” And then we start laughing, and it’s over. We know how to get through… And sometimes, it’s easier just to apologize and move on, even when you don’t think something is your fault. Really, who cares? Wouldn’t you rather have peace, instead of being right but arguing all night?

Take It Outside

Literally. I think that once it gets hot, remove yourself from the situation. That’s when you go for that after-dinner walk and burn that turkey off — it’s a win-win! After a big holiday meal, I’m always trying to get my family to go for a walk or play a game of basketball or ice hockey. It doesn’t just help us stay healthy, it keeps us from sitting around the table arguing! Getting out in the fresh air (and maybe checking your annoying cousin in a particularly rough hockey match) will lift everyone’s spirits while helping you digest dinner. If getting outside isn’t an option, having a game like Cards Against Humanity makes everyone laugh — instead of sitting around the table fighting after dinner!

Avoid Them!

If all else fails, sometimes it’s best to remove yourself from a situation altogether. If you know a holiday is going to involve a huge fight with your sister when you’re together at the dinner table, it might be best to take some time away from the family and let everyone cool off. Consider booking a non-refundable vacation with your spouse or best friend and simply flee the country over the holidays when the drama is at its peak. (Just don’t tell Mom and Dad that I suggested this!)  

Rally Health Ambassador Maria Menounos is host of SiriusXM’s “Conversations With Maria Menounos” and author of the best-selling “EveryGirl’s Guide” series.

Maria Menounos