Prepping Yourself for “Those” Awkward Holiday Conversations

Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. The holidays are intended to be a time for food, family, and family get-togethers. But let’s be honest–holiday celebrations rarely go down like a picture perfect Norman Rockwell painting. For many of us, our holiday family gatherings could be the inspiration for National Lampoon’s Holiday Vacation or be the focus for a week of Jerry Springer shows.

You’ve heard the saying, “distance makes the heart grow fonder.”  When it comes to holiday family gatherings, “distance makes the family conversations grow more and more awkward.”

 “Are you dating anyone right now?”  “When are you getting married?” When are you going to start having kids?”

Naturally, your family members are curious about you and what is going on in your life, but some of their questions can be intrusive or even offensive.

How can you handle these questions delicately, without invading your own privacy?  Here’s some advice on how you can respond to the top three awkward questions and keep the holiday festivities fun and, well, festive.

Are you dating anyone right now?

This is a sensitive subject for most everyone who is single, especially if they are already struggling with feelings of loneliness or overcoming a recent relationship break up. If faced with this question, just answer honestly. If you are dating someone casually, say so. If you’re not, let your family know that you are still looking and you will let them know when you find someone. Be prepared for your relatives to respond with critiques of your dating life, “you’re too picky,” or no-duh statements like, “you’re not getting any younger.”. While you don’t have any control over what your relatives will say, you can control how you react to their painful comments. Don’t let yourself get upset. Realize that your family is giving you advice out of their love for you—they want you to meet someone special and be happy. Take their advice with a grain of salt. You don’t have to listen to every word, but in this season of gratitude, it might not hurt to thank them for their concern about your future.

When are you getting married?

In a private conversation with a distant relative, this question can make you feel uncomfortable. But when asked in front of your partner, it is downright humiliating.  If you are in a dating relationship of any kind, be ready for this question to come up at least once, if not a dozen times. Be prepared to respond graciously, without sarcasm or spite! If you and your partner haven’t been together long enough to seriously consider marriage yet, it’s okay to say so. Sometimes a simple “I don’t know,” can end the topic. Or remind your relatives of the importance of the marriage decision—it’s not something you want to rush into and you want to be sure you are making the right decision. Few people will argue with the wisdom of such a statement.

If your partner will be a part of the family festivities, then have a pre-celebration conversation with him or her so the two of you can decide how to handle the inevitable question together. This way, your partner won’t be caught off guard when Uncle Ben asks, “When’s the wedding?”

When are you going to start having kids?

The decision to have children is a deeply personal matter. It is also a family matter, which means it is sure to be brought up at most family gatherings. This question can be particularly painful for couples struggling with infertility. Honesty is key to your response. If you are trying to get pregnant, let family know.  If you have decided to wait until graduation or until your financial situation is more stable, let them know. If you and your partner have decided not to have children, tell your family about your decision so that this topic doesn’t keep coming up.

Tips to Handle Most Every Awkward Family Conversation:

In any of these conversations, a few key principles can help you get through:

  • Honesty is the best policy. It may be tempting to twist the truth to make the questions stop. But if you tell a white lie to your relatives to make them think you are dating someone or suggest that a wedding date has been set, that only leads to bigger problems down the road. You’ll likely feel guilty for your dishonesty, heightened tension in your relationship with them, and greater resentment when the issue comes up again. Brief, vague answers are okay. You control how much information you share. If you do not want to get into the specifics of your relationship life, then don’t. If family keeps pressing you, let them know you are uncomfortable talking about the topic further. If they persist, try to change the subject or politely excuse yourself from the conversation.
  • Give family members the benefit of the doubt. Your mom isn’t asking you about future grandkids because she wants to make you feel guilty . She loves you and she is excited about this next season of life. Care and concern for you is the basis of every piece of advice offered and every question asked by your family members.
  • You can’t control what your relatives say. But, you can control your reaction to it. Be polite and calm no matter what is said. Choose not to take offense to questionable comments. Avoid arguing or getting in a heated exchange. Family celebrations only happen once or twice a year. There will be plenty of time to get over any rude, awkward or insensitive statements before you have to see them again.

Relationship Education classes aren’t just for couples. These classes teach valuable communication skills that help with all family relationships, between parents, siblings, and extended family. Consider taking a relationship class today to learn more about how to manage your family during the holiday season.

Want to Learn More?

Find a Relationship Education class near you to learn more communication skills.

Read 5 Great Reasons to Be Single During the Holidays from eHarmony if you are facing the holidays alone.

Read Thinking of Getting Married? Read This First from Get Romantic if you are thinking of tying the knot.

Read Pressured to Have a Child? from to learn more about handling pressure to start a family.

Read 5 Selfish Reasons to Thank Others to learn how an attitude of gratitude can improve your life.

We want to hear from you! What awkward family situations have happened to you? How did you handle them?

Written by Shelece McAllister– Copyright (C) 2012 Healthy Relationships California

One Response to “Prepping Yourself for “Those” Awkward Holiday Conversations”

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  1. Rosemary says:

    Years ago I attended a family gathering with a man I was dating at the time. His grandmother was experiencing dementia and didn’t realize that she kept repeating things. She asked me several times, “How long have you and Johnny been engaged?” Each time I just smiled and said, “We’ve known each other for six months.” Grandma was satisfied, other family members got the message, and nobody’s feelings were hurt.

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