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How to Survive the Holidays

Dreading spending too much time with your family during the festive season? Read this now.

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Holiday get-togethers would be easier to stomach if not for certain relatives. Maybe it's an uncle who always stirs the political pot or in-laws who nitpick everything. Before heading to your family affair, get into a relaxed mind-set, advises Debra Mandel, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based relationship expert. Chill out with a cocktail (one, not several) or watch a funny movie. "Take the edge off," she says. Still, there are major offenders in anybody's family. Here's how to deal with them.

Moping Cousin
Ever since she lost her job, your cousin's been stuck to the couch, surfing through syndicated judge shows. When talking to a laid-off relative, acknowledge what she's going through is tough. Then encourage her by accentuating her strengths. Your pep talk may be what she needs to get back on track.

Envious Sibling
Your younger brother can't stand how good life is for you, which is why you hate talking about your career or family in front of him when others ask how you're doing. "Try not to give your sibling's envy any power," Mandel says. Instead, convey to your bro that you're rooting for him and that there's enough in this world to go around.

Opinionated Uncle
Whenever you see your uncle, he steps on a soapbox that seems to grow bigger every year. Your goal? Be Switzerland. Keep conversations politically neutral and friendly. And always have an exit strategy in case a debate turns ugly. Start up a pickup football game or volunteer to grab a few supplies at store.

Judgmental In-Laws
Don't take criticism from in-laws personally. Words are insulting only when you allow them to be, Mandel says. Your best defense in this case may be flattery. Say something nice to your monster, er, mother-in-law the moment you see her. Even a compliment about how sharp she's dressed can help keep the peace.

Grandparents
Yes, they may be curmudgeonly, but Nana and Pappy have enough to deal with—like aches, pains, and the cancellation of Murder, She Wrote. So make them feel special, even for a few minutes. Ask where they'd like to sit at the table or chat with them about their favorite family holiday memories.

Jaded Teens
Show your sister's kids some empathy. After all, you were in their same angst-ridden shoes 10 years ago, right? Give them quality time. Spend a few minutes joking with them or talking about their interests. Just don't ask yes-or-no questions, as teens are infamous for one-word responses, Mandel says.

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