During the Christmas and New Year holidays familiarity may not always breed contempt, but it sure can exacerbate existing family tensions often with relatives who we are spending a lot of time with over the holidays.

Leonard Felder, a Los Angeles psychologist, found that about three-quarters of us have at least one family member who annoys us, who gets on our nerves. Chances are, you don’t have to think too hard about who that is in your tribe.

But why is it that the same idiotic remark that is either ignored or laughed at when dispensed by a friend, elicits a volcanic eruption of emotion matches when delivered by a relative at Christmas?

Is there something about our relatives—or something about the holidays—that’s makes this all particularly irksome?

So, I reckon that there are at least four reasons as to why the emotional temperature at Christmas time can rapidly climb and culminate in an epic screaming match and hence why it is a great idea to call an 8 day Family truce this Christmas.

Freud’s Narcissism of Small Differences

The great Austrian psychiatrist and father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud noted that people who lived near each other and were ethnically similar, Spaniards and Portuguese, the North Germans and South Germans, the English and Scotch were often the ones who fought most bitterly. Freud blamed this on what he called ‘the narcissism of the small difference.’ He argued that it was the trifling differences in people who are otherwise very similar formed the basis of feelings of hostility between them. This might be because we tend to remember and value the differences between ourselves and others more than we do the similarities. To this day, Freud’s theory is used to explain the factors behind certain civil wars and potentially what happens around the dining room table at Christmas.

Stratospheric expectations

If your idea of a perfect Christmas is one in which everyone is chock-a-bloc full of love, joy and unbridled happiness where kindness courses through everyone’s veins, then you are setting yourself up for significant disappointment. Instead it is more prudent to establish more realistic goals where you hope for perhaps 10 good minutes of conversation. Have the intention to laugh a little more, breathe a little easier, or say a few kind words to even the most challenging relative. Set reasonable goals and you won’t feel let down.

It’s all about timing – Go late, leave early

If last year, things went well for the first few hours, then went belly up when people started to liquor up. It’s smart to bail or arrive later. If the father-in-law that you can’t stand, says they’ll come at noon, but dinner’s ready at 5, tell him you can’t get there closer to 3.30! You could even arrive in separate cars – so that even if your spouse wants to stay, you can offer your apologies and scarper with the kids before it gets too unendurable.

Be a lover not a fighter

There will almost always be at least one relative who goes out of their way to give you grief. It’s one thing to dream about putting them in their place once and for all. But trust me, part of the 8 day truce is to resist the temptation. There is a time and a place for such robust discussions, and to let forth with a rant can be a big mistake. This is not the time to have that interaction, it is more strategic to deflect their opening provocative line with a light hearted response resist taking the bait — and then change the subject.

So calling an 8 day Family Peace Foundation Truce this Christmas, will be much easier if you bear in mind that what is irritating you is often what binds you together, your own unrealistic expectations, staying too long and you taking the bait.

On behalf of all us at the Family Peace Foundation enjoy your Christmas Truce.