During the holidays most of us want to spend time with friends and family, while at the same time avoiding the negative comments and unnecessary disagreements that often come with these celebrations. Here are my five rules on what to say/not say to loved ones during holiday gatherings. Follow these rules to help avoid problems or conflicts with everyone from your significant other to your in-laws.
1) Say what you like, not what you don't. Be complimentary. Don't like a Thanksgiving dish? Don't mention it and don't compare it to anyone else's dish (dead or alive)! Talk about the dish you liked. Didn't like ANY of the food? Compliment the hostess on her decorations or her outfit. Don't like those either? You know the saying: If you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all!
2) Say what you're thankful for, not what you wish was different. Thanksgiving is a time to acknowledge all of the things we feel thankful for, yet we often spend time complaining. This is not the time to talk extensively about ongoing problems, so talk about things you feel thankful for like your health, family or friendship. As much as people want to "catch up" they also don't want to be brought down, so stay focused on gratitude instead of ranting for hours about the economy and the job market! You can have those deep conversations the next day.
3) Say what will keep the peace, not what will start an argument! Far too many family members get together and decide to hash out relationship problems while they're face to face at Thanksgiving dinner. No! This is not the place to argue with your in-laws or your siblings. If you have to, talk about the weather or sports, but don't bring up situations that are going to trigger hurt feelings and start a fight. Tip: If it's about something negative that happened in the past, you probably don't want to discuss it today.
4) Say what everyone already knows, not "breaking news!" Thanksgiving is not the time to declare any significant and negative life changes like separation, divorce, infidelity or bankruptcy. Unless it's a marriage proposal or a new pregnancy, try not to say anything that is going to shock everyone and leave them feeling upset and ambushed. You don't want the celebration to suddenly turn from happy to sad.
5) Say things about yourself, not about other people. This is not the time to call people out on their issues, like asking your son-in-law when he's going to start spending more time with your grandchildren, asking your daughter when she's going to get married, asking your wife when she's going back to the gym now that the baby is 6 months old or asking your sibling when they're going to "get their life together." If you want to discuss personal issues, then talk about your own life (keeping my other tips in mind -- keep it positive), instead of airing other people's dirty laundry.
I recently discussed these rules on the CBS Early Show with my Women's Health colleague Matt Bean. Check out the video.
Good luck and happy holidays!
© 2011 Dr. Michelle Callahan