5 Psychologist-Approved Phrases to Use When Family Interactions Get Tense

5 Psychologist-Approved Phrases to Use When Family Interactions Get Tense

The silly season has landed, people. And as you all know, this time of year is a busy one for many of us. Like any holiday period, the end of the year tends to mean more time spent with family. That may be wonderful for some, but for others, it represents a barrage of uncomfortable questions and pressure from relatives who just can’t help but prod.

We’ve written about ways to manage tricky relationship dynamics over the holidays before, but today, we want to set you up with a few useful phrases that you can use if/when you find yourself faced with icky questions or comments at family events.

Mary Spillane, Clinical Psychologist and Headspace App’s Mental Health Expert, shared that ahead of these kinds of interactions, it’s always a good idea to plan.

“There is a meditation on the Headspace App called ‘Difficult Conversations’. It focuses on reactivity, helping us to be calmer, and more patient and ultimately helps us remember to listen and express ourselves more clearly,” she said.

In addition to this, she also suggested that you do your best to stick to ‘safe’ topics of conversation that don’t bring up any uncomfortable feelings – if possible.

In terms of useful phrases, though, here is a list of five examples we think you may find helpful.

Useful phrases for when difficult topics pop up with family

family arguments phrases boundaries
Family arguments, boundaries. iStock

Here, we’ve pulled together five examples of tense situations and the kinds of phrases that may help smooth things out for you and your family.

  • Spillane shared that if someone asks an uncomfortable question, like “why are you still single?” your best bet is to acknowledge and then redirect.

“That’s a difficult question to answer. What’s everyone up to for the holidays?”

  • If the above gentle nudge doesn’t work, Spillane recommends attempting to set boundaries with family by voicing your discomfort.

“I don’t feel comfortable talking about this, can we discuss something else?”

  • And if things continue, you can also draw a clear line by making it clear you have no intention of continuing the conversation.

“I’m going to need to leave if this conversation continues.”

  • When we spoke with psychologist Patrick Dixon about family tension last year, he also offered a guide to thoughtful responses. He explained that being clear while expressing your needs is important here.

“When I hear you say _, I feel _, because I value/need _. Would you be willing to _?”

  • And if the message isn’t heard by certain family members, Dixon, like Spillane, shared an example of how to set firm boundaries.

“Clearly, we don’t agree. I’d prefer to change the topic if you don’t mind.”

Now, while we hope you have no reason to use any of the above – there is a chance some people may find themselves in need of a lifeboat when family discussions head into turbulent waters this year. Here’s hoping these phrases help you move through them with a little more ease.

 If you or someone you know needs help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. In an emergency, call 000.

This article has been updated since its original publish date.

Lead Image Credit: Disney

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.

At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


Leave a Reply