6 Ways To Set Boundaries With Your Family During The Holidays

Keep the celebrations as pleasant and peaceful as possible.

Experts share their top tips on how to set boundaries with your family during the holidays.

As any mental health professional or wise friend will tell you, setting boundaries in any relationship or work setting is crucial for both your mental health and overall well-being. When it comes to family, however, sometimes lines get blurred and feelings of obligation or devotion can keep you from putting yourself first. And it can be even trickier setting boundaries with family during the holidays.

No matter how big your family is or how close to them you are, it’s still important to learn how to communicate your needs — especially if Thanksgiving dinner or holiday get-togethers tend to stress you out. Taking charge of how much time you want to spend around them or what conversation topics you’re not comfortable addressing can help keep the celebrations as pleasant and peaceful as possible. “The more you know what your boundaries are, the more it can emotionally protect you from whatever comes your way,” says licensed psychologist David Tzall, Psy.D.

It’s more than valid to have worries or concerns over how your family might behave during your gatherings, or how they might react when you make your own decisions about how you’d like to celebrate the holidays. Below, experts share their best advice for setting boundaries with your family, no matter what your plans are between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.


Get Clear On What You Want — & What You Don’t

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In the same way that you use specific parameters in dating or a job search, you can be clear in what you’re open to in family holiday gatherings. Before going into these social situations, decide how you want to be treated, what you’re willing to accept (or not accept), and how you want to feel when you’re with the group. As Tzall previously mentioned, the clearer you are on exactly what boundaries you need to feel safe and comfortable, the higher the chance that you’ll have a more peaceful time.


Be Firm With Your Time

It’s easy to get sucked into various events or parties during the holidays, especially when you feel a familial obligation to attend. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, or stretched thin this time of year, decide how much time and energy you’re willing to allot to your family this year, says licensed mental health counselor Marc Campbell. “If there’s a difference between what you want and your family’s expectation, it could be helpful to talk with your family a couple of weeks before the holiday to let them know how long you plan to stay,” he tells Bustle.

He recommends phrasing this like, “I have a lot on my plate right now, so I’m making changes to my usual schedule,” or “Though I’m not able to stay as long as usual, I’m glad we still get to spend some time together.” Keep things kind but firm.


Set Limits For Conversation


Sometimes, time with family during the holidays can get a little... tense. If conversations turn sour around government policies, religion, money, or other controversial topics, some conflicts can arise and feelings can get hurt. Avoiding this is an important step in your boundary-setting with family, says Tzall. If you’re not open to chatting about your love life or job hunt, let them know. “Drawing this boundary and enforcing it is healthy and appropriate,” he says. “Saying no is not being rude.”

While your family might protest a bit or react unfavorably to you setting these boundaries with them, it can save everyone a whole lot of frustration and even resentment. The holidays should be a joyous time to bring loved ones closer together, so if you can remain firm on not going head-to-head with your grandpa about the recent election results, you have a better chance of making that happen.


Prepare With Your Partner

If you’re in a relationship, bringing your partner around your family — whether for the first time or in general — can be stressful. It’s up to you how open you want to be with your love life, so if you’re not ready or willing to bring your S.O. into the holiday fold, that’s totally OK. That being said, if you do want your partner to join in the festivities, Campbell says you should chat through what to expect ahead of time — think dress code, subject matters you don’t want to discuss, your family’s comfort level with PDA, etc.

Collaborating with your partner on which boundaries you want to set with your family can both bring you closer and provide them with a better understanding of the dynamic you share with your relatives.


Set Expectations For Unsolicited Comments

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Some people can relate to the experience of having an uncle who imbibed too much or a nosy grandparent trying to pry personal information out of you, or worse — providing unsolicited feedback on your lifestyle choices, love life, or career path. Rather than endure these unwanted comments and criticisms and risk getting upset, you can decide to quickly and calmly shut these down right when they pop up.

“It’s all too common for family members to comment on the weight, body, and/or eating habits of other family members,” notes Campbell. If this is your family, he recommends being direct. Say something like, “Please do not comment on my body.” Make it clear that this is something you will not accept from the start, and it can potentially ward off further behavior from your family members — while also making you feel empowered to stick up for yourself.


Practice Boundary Setting

It can still be intimidating to set boundaries with your family, even if you know what to do. To mitigate any worries or insecurities, Tzall recommends practicing. “This might mean talking out loud how you might say ‘no’ or switch the subject,” he says. “Practice could also be mentally fantasizing about what you will do if or when your boundary gets tested.”

Whether you practice with your S.O. or in the mirror, get comfortable with the idea that just saying “no” is a complete sentence and that you are worthy of protecting your peace. Once you do, it’ll help ensure that your family holidays will stay merry and bright.


Dr. David Tzall, Psy.D., licensed psychologist

Marc Campbell, licensed mental health counselor