Running from the Reunion? How to Cope with Difficult Family Visits

Young family with children greet grandparents in doorway of houseIn today’s modern world, many of us don’t live near our families. In order to see our loved ones, we generally have to plan a visit. Due to finances, scheduling time off work, packing, making the trip, and any number of other bumps along the way, this is often a stressful process.

Then we arrive, worn out from the trip and eager for the happy reunion we anticipate, but our visit ends up dissolving into drama, miscommunication, and hurt feelings.

Is this a familiar pattern? If so, there may be unresolved issues tainting your relationship with your family. When repetitive conflict occurs, working toward a resolution can feel lopsided or darn near impossible, and the inability to resolve issues may cause frustration and further stress.

Limiting the Stress of Visits

How can you work towards improving the quality of family visits?  Let’s take a look at a few tips that may help you not merely survive a visit, but actually enrich relationships with family members and help make the time you spend together more fulfilling.

  1. Try to plan visits that are as free of stress as possible. As with most things in life, timing is everything. In other words, if the deadline of a project is looming and your mom wants to spend a week with you, this may not be the best idea. Free your calendar for a visit, and be realistic about the time you can afford to spare. Perhaps rather than having your mom visit for an entire week, you choose to plan an extended weekend visit.
  2. Speaking of time, know your limits. If you are dealing with a difficult parent or sibling, don’t set yourself up for a lengthy stay. It is possible to love a family member without necessarily liking them. The closest and most easygoing of families can get grumpy after four or five days under the same roof, but for some the snapping point may be a few hours. So plan accordingly.
  3. Consider where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing. One possible strategy to reduce stress is to plan ahead of time. Look for activities everyone can participate in, and make a plan before you get together so everyone will be aware of the activities that can realistically be undertaken during the visit. This can help reduce both the burden of planning and the boredom of having nothing to do during a visit while also alleviating stress, anxiety, and short tempers.
  4. Be honest about your expectations and needs. If you don’t like the chaos of large family gatherings, plan one-on-one visits. Even if you simply get coffee or take a walk in the park together, visiting with just one family member at a time allows for more intimate dynamics. These types of visits are excellent for deepening relationships without a lot of outside interference, and they can be particularly ideal if you tend to experience difficulties with a family member. A one-on-one visit can allow you the opportunity to address and resolve issues without the added tension and input of others.
  5. Consider your finances. When planning a trip, be realistic about your budget and stay within it. If you are feeling strapped financially, the visit may be compromised and cause you further stress unless you are able to be frank about not going over budget. You might offer to help cook a meal at home instead of going out to eat. Consider going for a hike or taking a day trip to the beach instead of seeing a show, or stay in and play board games together.
  6. Plan for time-outs. If you and your partner are going to visit parents, be sure to take time alone, even if it’s just long enough to slip out to the store. You need time to regroup, to have quiet, to process, or to simply be alone. If you have the chance for a longer break, seek out places that will restore your sense of self. Find a yoga studio, wander through the neighborhood, or find a bookstore and read for an hour or two. You might also choose to create your own space by staying at a hotel, a friend’s house, or an Airbnb, rather than with your relatives. This may cause a few hurt feelings, but in the end it might make for a more optimal visit.
  7. Don’t be afraid to try new behaviors to implement positive change. Instead of falling back into unhelpful patterns, you might try establishing new ones. Rather than engaging in an argument, for example, try deflecting. Altering your reactions can be a powerful tool for defusing conflict. If your dad tends to make trite comments about your work, change the subject and tell him something interesting instead of becoming defensive. A one-time modification in behavior will not necessarily resolve old wounds, but it can empower you to continue changing the nature of the relationship. You might even get to the point where you can confront the offending family member and simply ask them to stop.

The next time you are planning to spend time with family, try implementing these suggestions and see if they help smooth out any rocky patches and lead to a more enjoyable visit.

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Mara Fisher, LCSW, MCC

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Molly

    May 25th, 2017 at 10:14 AM

    Ummm no, N-O. My in laws do not stay in our house when they come for a visit.
    I don’t think that the space between us emotionally would ever allow me to make my home open to them.’I let them see the kids as much as they want and they can plan all sorts of day trips with them, but there is a reason why we chose to move away from them.

  • Viv

    May 26th, 2017 at 10:35 AM

    I think that most of us can sense when we are unwanted and if it were me I would shy away from that.

  • Kade

    May 27th, 2017 at 7:20 AM

    I live all the way across the country from the rest of my family so the opportunities to see them are very few and far between.
    This is not by choice as I love my family and I miss them all terribly but the job options around home in my field just weren’t what I needed them to be so I moved to find the best career move.
    I love it when we can all get together and Skype has been a major help I think for all of us.

  • Misty

    May 28th, 2017 at 1:04 PM

    This is not always going to be the most pleasant even for any of us, but sometimes you just have to be willing to put your big girl pants on and muster through it.

  • John J

    May 29th, 2017 at 8:08 AM

    The scenes that we imagine in our minds usually are not the real scenes that are enacted once we actually get to be around one another. You might think that everyone is grown now, but there is something about being around that family that causes you to revert back to the relationship dynamics that were present when everyone was young. I choose to avoid that as much as possible to be honest. I have so much better things to do with my time, like making great memories with my own small little family than dredging up the pain of the past. I am not someone who says that I have to do this or that because they are family. Nope, I would rather just say let’s now lead our own lives and leave the pain from the past in the past where it should be.

  • Curtis

    May 29th, 2017 at 3:54 PM

    Sometimes you just have to go through the motions and do the things that you have to do to not get disowned.

  • Marquin

    May 31st, 2017 at 11:10 AM

    Even though I am ashamed to admit this I haven;t seen too many people outside of work over the past few years because I really just don’t have the energy to put up with them and be with them. I think that as I have gotten older I have become more reclusive so it makes me physically ill at times to think about having to go out or make conversation with people. I know that I am missing out on a lot but on the flip side then I know I also don’t have to put up with their negative energy either so that makes me justify what I am feeling.

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