Pass the Gravy, but Spare the Rhetoric – What Do You Do During the Holidays When Your Family Is At Odds?

by | Nov 12, 2021

‘Tis the season to reconnect with family. But, how do you endure family gatherings when half of the family disagrees ideologically? You love your family, but maybe don’t love their politics, beliefs, and opinions.

So, during the holiday season, let’s explore the question, “How do you ask Uncle Bob to pass the gravy, but spare the conspiracy theories?”

How to Successfully Navigate Holiday Family Gatherings

Everyone has an opinion, but we don’t all agree. That discourse keeps life interesting, but it can also be a source of stress, especially at family gatherings. When dealing with family that are at loggerheads, or in all-out discord, here are some simple and effective strategies to help you navigate the holiday get-togethers.

Keep the Conversation Light

You can only control yourself and your actions, but you can at least try and steer conversations towards topics you all agree upon. Or, you can reminisce about memories that make everyone feel loved and included.

Nothing brings people closer than happiness. Keep your conversations light and full of love. Talk about loved ones, previous holidays and events that evoke joy and happiness, and light-hearted conversation topics. If Uncle Bob still insists upon talking about topics that divide, do your best to quickly acknowledge his words, but then pivot topics before he can respond.

Not sure what to talk about? Watch people’s faces. When they light up, you are on the right track. Keep a mental note of the safe topics, and keep the conversation going in that direction.

Find Common Ground

Is there an author, TV series, sports team or other topic that you all love? Stick to that. You can make an entire (and very enjoyable) evening debating and discussing Game Of Thrones. Or, talk about the games of your favorite sports teams.

And while happiness brings people together, the funny thing is, a common enemy can be a very powerful way to unite two opposing forces. So, while maybe you and Uncle Bob vehemently disagree about the political climate, what or who do you both dislike? Talking about common dislike or turn-off can be remarkably unifying.

Learn When To Walk Away

Sometimes, no matter what you do, Uncle Bob is simply dead set upon talking about his divisive ideology. When misdirection, topic changing, and common ground topics fails, learn that it is OK to just walk away. Excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, and simply go elsewhere.

If you are stuck sitting next to him at the table, simply try engaging with others. Hopefully, he will get the hint that there are some topics that are simply not on the holiday table.

Calmly Set Boundaries

When all else fails, and Uncle Bob just isn’t getting the hint, it’s time to simply (and calmly) set your boundaries. You do not want to embarrass Uncle Bob, you just want to help him understand. Do this respectfully and calmly. Include a positive and honest observation, but express firmly what you want to say. For example:

“Uncle Bob, we just don’t get to see each other that often and I want us both to enjoy our time together. I would prefer that we stick to topics that we both enjoy. I am choosing to not talk to you about *this*. But, I love your stories about work. How’s it going at your job?”

“Whenever we get to see each other Uncle Bob, you make me laugh. I want to connect with you and not bang heads with you. Let’s talk about the things that bring us closer and not talk about those topics where we just don’t see eye to eye.”

“We just don’t agree on this subject, and I am not sure we ever will. But, I want you to know that I love it when you talk about your stories from your childhood. Can you share more of those with me?”

When All Else Fails – There is Always Grey Rock

So, you’ve tried every tactic listed above, and Uncle Bob is just dead set upon talking about his divisive topic and maybe even getting a little heated. If you cannot walk away and setting boundaries just isn’t working, learn how to be a grey rock.

The grey rock method involves communicating in an uninteresting way when interacting with unruly, abusive, or manipulative people. The name “grey rock” refers to how those using this approach become unresponsive, similar to a rock.

The technique may involve:
  • avoiding interactions with the abusive person
  • keeping unavoidable interactions brief
  • giving short or one-word answers to questions
  • keeping your face and body language devoid of emotional expressions
  • communicating in a factual, unemotional way

The aim is to cause Uncle Bob to lose interest and stop his antagonistic behavior and protect your emotional well-being.


If you have tried EVERYTHING including being a grey rock, and Uncle Bob does not lose interest in the topic or you, he may try increasingly harmful tactics to get a reaction from you. This may lead to escalation or even abuse. When this happens, you need to remember one thing.

You can leave.

This is not a hostage situation and you have every right to just walk out. Your mental health and well-being eclipse any condemnation Aunt Becky might have about you leaving her holiday dinner before dessert, but that’s OK. You can leave knowing that although you cannot control others, you did everything you possibly could to avoid a confrontation.

And, while Aunt Becky may be upset at the time, that’s her choice. The reality is that your actions probably avoided a situation that would have really ruined her dessert course.

Beyond the Family Gatherings

Navigating family gatherings during the holiday season can be challenging. But, do you have difficulty dealing with family other times of the year as well? We offer a variety of counseling services both online and at our Columbia, SC wellness center including Family Systems Counseling and Therapy. Contact us today to learn more about how we help individuals and families get the skills they need to pursue a life filled with joy and hope.

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