Terri Orbuch is a psychologist, Oakland University professor, and research professor at The University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research. She is also the host of The Love Doctor radio program on VoiceAmerica. Her Love Doctor Relationship Segments are aired weekly on Fox TV-Detroit.

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The Love Doctor

by Dr. Terri Orbuch, The Love Doctor

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Not every family's holiday dinner looks like a Norman Rockwell painting. For many, holiday dinners can mean stressful family get-togethers and controlling in-laws.

Surviving Family Holiday MealsHow do you survive this difficult period of time? How do you handle family holiday meals with relatives who don't like each other - or you, for that matter? You are not alone in experiencing family-based stress over the holidays.

Studies show that most people have elevated levels of stress during these family get-togethers. There are a few reasons for this.

First, holiday gatherings and/or holiday guest lists are often based on obligation rather than choice.

Second, stress is inevitable because families bring their historic baggage - it's a fact of life.

Third, when we are in the company of our partner's family, we often want to gain their approval.

And finally, differences between family backgrounds become more apparent over the holidays.

Here are 6 Love Doctor Tips for relieving stress, defusing conflict, and maintaining harmony at family gatherings.

  • Let other people help.
    Have everyone bring a favorite dish to pass at the family get-together. That way, every family member is an essential part of the meal or party. If someone doesn't like to cook or bake, have them bring flowers, a game to play, or the plates/napkins.

  • Respect differences.
    You can't change anyone's behavior or opinion at one get-together. Be a role model and show respect for everyone's opinion. If there is a topic that creates too much conflict for you or other family members, try to stay clear of that topic. The most common examples are politics and religion.

  • Keep your boundaries.
    Boundaries are okay in what you tell your family or friends at the holiday dinners. Don't spill your guts to everyone about everything. Respect one another's privacy. In return, set limits for what you ask others about. It is not the time to ask your adult children if they're dating or when they're going to have children. Don't take it personally when others don't want to share their concerns or issues with you.

  • Be inclusive.
    Everyone needs to feel special and important. Do your best to help other family members feel that way. Sometimes, compliments and noticing others diffuses stress and conflict. Notice your mother-in-law's new dress, your brother's new haircut, or your cousin's new car.

  • Be sensitive to others' needs.
    Be aware of who is coming to your family gatherings. Kids need games and toys and other diversions. Elderly people need a quiet place to rest before and after the meal. If you have the space in your house or apartment, create spaces that allow guests to spread out and "do their thing." For example, a cozy corner with a comfy chair and some magazines. Even a TV room. Let guests know that they are welcome to make themselves comfortable. Also, be sure to accommodate your guests' special dietary needs. Provide a few alternative dishes and don't feel insulted if they can't eat everything you've prepared.

  • Keep it light.
    Studies show that laughter and smiling changes people's moods. Tell a funny story or a joke. Print out a list of one-liners from the internet, cut it into strips, and have each dinner guest read his or hers out loud. Games also reduce family tension and are always fun. But be sure to play games that don't take much skill or prior knowledge. Play charades, cards, or other noncompetitive games.

    Dr. Terri Orbuch (Ph.D.), aka "The Love Doctor," is a psychologist, Oakland University professor, and research professor at The University of Michigan. She is also the host of The Love Doctor Talk Radio Program on the VoiceAmerica network. Her Love Doctor Relationship Segments are aired weekly on Fox TV-Detroit. For more information, check out www.drterrithelovedoctor.com.

  • @ 5:59pm ET on November 7, 2014
    All very good tips. Thanks.

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