11/21/2013 05:23 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Rules of Engagement: Dealing With Your Family During the Holidays

There is nothing quite like the holidays: the streetlights, the gifts, fun with friends and... oh yes, family gatherings.

It seems most families are dysfunctional in some way (and if yours is perfect, well then God bless you). For the rest of us, there always seems to be some upset about something. Most of it is related to our expectations about what other people in our family should be doing -- so and so didn't marry the perfect woman, so and so borrowed money and didn't pay it back, so and so drinks to much, so and so stole my Stuffy when I was 5 and I'll never forgive him for it -- we all have our opinions, and family members seem to think that because we're related, it's a free-for-all in spewing them. Sometimes these are big upsets and sometimes they are tiny little pins being poked into our eyes over and over again, year after year.

Oh joy, the holidays are now upon us, and soon your home will be descended upon by a myriad of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, Aunt Marys and Uncle Toms, the stepmother you never liked, and your most favorite, your in-laws. Yippee! So, how do you and your family survive the holidays without the swat team showing up at your door and somebody being read their Miranda rights?

1. Breathe and remember it'll be over soon. (Okay, that was easy.)

2. Remember the buddy system. Have a confidant you can call or text or email or Skype or however the bleep you do it, and when you are about to explode like a popper on New Year's Eve, get in touch with them. Now here's the thing about this buddy: Their job is NOT to agree with you, contribute more anger and upset or rile you up. Their job is to mellow you the bleep out. They should listen, show you love and compassion, and help you find that love and compassion for whomever you are having the bitch fest about in the first place.

3. Before their arrival, take some time to honestly reflect on situation. Is it possible that you can find some responsibility for this family feud of your own? If you owe it, apologize. When you do, do it without any expectations of it being accepted, do it without any expectations of an apology back. Clean out your soul a bit. If you don't owe an apology, then don't apologize just to make things better. It never works out that way. Because usually when you're doing that, you're doing it to appease someone and that isn't showing compassion for you. And you'll probably end up bitter about it, which in turn will only make it worse. Being honest is always the best policy -- cliché' I know, but true.

4. If you can, calmly and without emotion, contact them before they arrive to talk about it. Don't start the conversation with a "you" statement, start with an "I" statement. Here's the deal: Most of these arguments start when one person does something they didn't even realize they did, and we are just escalating it by not actually having an honest conversation about it in the first place. Then we let it fester, talk shit to our friends and other relatives about it, and whammo, instant family drama. Perhaps it can easily be resolved by having a non-threatening conversation, so it's probably a good idea to not start the conversation like this: "You are an asshole!" You could go with something like, "I would like to find a way to resolve (blank)... I value our relationship... Or when (blank) happened I felt..." Give them time to process this because most of us go on the defensive right off the bat so be patient and listen to their side as well. Your goal is resolution, not to be right.

5. If it's really bad and you see no resolution, here's a crazy idea: Say NO! There is no actual law that says you must spend any holiday with your family. So you could simply say no. This might piss them off even more, it might upset more of your family, but you are only responsible for you. You get to decide how to create your own happiness, and if you'd rather pull out your fingernails one by one than spending a day or two with your family, then perhaps you should just skip it. If you need to communicate with other family members who might be upset, call them up and BE HONEST. Don't guilt them into feeling bad for you or blowing off the other family member! If you're worried about being lonely and all your friends are busy, go volunteer at a shelter, go on a vacation, or be lonely and survive that, because if you can see that you will live without putting yourself through misery or engaging in drama just because you think you have to, then you might find the courage to say no more often. You might realize that it's possible to live without drama, not just in your family life, but in other relationships as well.