Summer seems to be awash with family gatherings: backyard barbecues, beachfront bashes, parties at the park.
Sounds idyllic — as long as everyone behaves.
That’s not always the case, however.
If this rings true for you and your clan, it may be wise to head off trouble by deciding on acceptable conversation topics and behaviors ahead of time. “The whole goal of these gatherings is to be creating good memories with loved ones. So anything that doesn’t serve that goal isn’t necessary in that setting,” says Danielle Androff, a licensed clinical social worker in St. Louis.
Here are some ways to ruin an otherwise perfectly good gathering — as well as tips to avoid doing so.
1. Being judgmental
Remember the adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”?
Noticing (out loud) that someone’s weight has changed (in either direction) or making it known to a tattoo-covered relative that you don't care for body art is a no-no.
"Unless you are telling someone that they look wonderful, there’s nothing you need to say to comment on somebody else's appearance,” Androff says.
If you catch yourself after the fact, apologize as quickly as you can. If you’re the one being addressed, be courageous and direct about changing the subject, recommends Jeffrey Kraft, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Chicago.
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“In a very assertive manner, tell the person that you’re just not interested in that conversation,” he advises. “It’s perfectly appropriate to say, ‘I didn’t really appreciate that comment’ or ‘Why is this important to you?’ ”
If you tend to deflect awkward situations with humor, go for it. If, however, things in your family usually get swept under the rug, be prepared to stand your ground about how you deserve to be treated.
Then flip things around by asking questions. These could be general (“How have you been doing?”) or specific (“How are you spending your retirement?”).
“It’s a way of not rejecting them as a person,” Kraft says, “and a way of turning the tables to a conversation that you genuinely might be interested in.”