An ounce of flattery will get you a well behaved guest.
Do you have any relatives or friends that ruin everyone's time on Thanksgiving or Christmas and you can't un-invite them? Do you feel guilty at wishing they'll either have other plans or be too sick to come? Do you wish there was a way to papertrain them so they don't mess on everyone else's good time?
Here is how using a little applied emotional intelligence can save the day. One thing most of these high-maintenance (easy to upset, difficult to please) people have in common is that they feel as if the world is not treating them well enough. In essence they don't feel important or special enough in the world (usually because their awful personality has gotten in the way of success which they are bitter about).
This is where thinking ahead and using the "i" (as in "important") word can do wonders.
Have the male of the house that is doing dinner call these problem people five to seven days ahead of time and say to them: "I'm calling to ask you a favor because you're a very important part of our holiday gatherings (i.e. "because we haven't figured out how to keep you from coming or shut you up"). Many of us don't see or even talk to each other except for these holidays and you never know who's really having a bad time with a terrible illness, a recent death, or some big financial problems. So these gathering can be very awkward and since you are such a consistent and important guest I was hoping you might be able to greet people when they come in, and help pull them out of their shell by asking them how they and their family are doing and about anything new that's been going on with them."
Having the male of the house do something so forward thinking and so gracious (it's not that often that a man asks for help or directions) and also giving these people who feel so cheated by life the chance to feel important is not only quite flattering, it is disarming. The problem person is going to have trouble responding with his/her real modas operandi, i.e. "No thanks. I was planning on coming and ruining everyone's time like I do every year."
Then when Thanksgiving or Xmas dinner occurs, this same male should greet that person at the door, touch them on the arm and say: "I hope I can count on you to help make people feel comfortable after they arrive." Then add before they can respond, "Oh, excuse me. I have to go take care of some things."
This may not stop a dyed in the wool jerk from spoiling the holidays, but it may serve as a deterrent.
This approach was adapted from communication tips in: "Just Listen" Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone (AMACOM, $24.95) by Mark Goulston, M.D.