How To Set Boundaries With Family Over The Holidays


Are you going through a divorce or recently divorced, and starting to dread the holidays because you don’t want to experience another argument?


Perhaps you are thinking:

  • My family is going to pressure me to talk about the divorce.

  • My family isn’t going to support my decision and make me feel guilty for it.

  • My ex in-laws are going to still tell me how to parent when they see the kids.

  • My family is bound to badmouth my ex in front of the children.

  • My family will ask invasive questions about my dating life and I don’t know how to respond.

  • My ex is going to make the day difficult for drop-off and pick-up.


While your family may think they know what’s best for you at the end of the day it’s your life and a private matter. Keeping your divorce private can be beneficial to your mental and emotional health, as it's not their problem to solve. While you may want to shove a pie in their face…(we don’t recommend it even though it might be great for releasing your frustrations)....it's better to own your power and set healthy boundaries with them. This will help you maintain your inner peace and enjoy the holidays this season.


Establishing your boundaries with family members or ex in-laws starts with knowing your personal limits and emotional triggers. If you are self-aware of what may upset you this can help you navigate conversations with ease staying three steps ahead of your relatives so you can respond with grace.


Step 1: Define your triggers with specific relatives


Once you have established your personal limits and emotional triggers for topics of conversation, then think about what it is you are not receiving in the relationship to create harmony. Is it respect, peaceful communication, personal space, privacy, trust? Choosing your top 5 core values can guide you to a sound place to establish healthy boundaries and confidently maintain your standards with your relatives without damaging the connection.


Step 2: Solidify your top three values in your relationships.


After defining your triggers and what pushes your buttons at the holiday dinner table, focus on the top three of your values. You will want to keep these in the back of your mind while engaging in conversations with your family. This way the minute you get triggered you are aware of what value is being dismissed.


While interacting with your family and enjoying a meal, it can be super helpful to use discovery questions to gain insight or diffuse heightened emotion when experiencing comments that come across as offensive. Discovery Questions are open-ended questions that allow you to understand how come your divorce is their concern or what makes them say something that’s not their place to say. By asking questions, it shuts down the power struggle and puts it back on them while keeping you remain in a calm and collective state of mind.


Step 3: Ask discovery questions, like


  • What do you mean by that?

  • What about my divorce concerns you?

  • Help me understand, how is this topic appropriate for children?

  • Where did you come up with that perspective?

  • How is my dating life affecting you?


After you have gathered more insight from your relatives, this will help you identify where to draw the line based on one of your values to keep the connection healthy while standing up for yourself. Next, comes implementing the boundary.


Step 4: Set a boundary


Boundary Example 1: “I feel frustrated when my divorce becomes part of the family discussion. I value privacy. How about we find something else to talk about?”


Boundary Example 2: “I feel annoyed when I’m asked about the status of my relationship or dating life. I value privacy. Can we agree that unless something changes we won’t talk about it?”


Boundary Example 3: “I feel angry when commenting on my parenting style. I value mutual respect. How do we agree to respect our differences when it comes to parenting?”


When establishing a boundary, you will want to address the behavior of the person versus the person themselves. Let them know what you value and how you both can agree moving forward what that means for this topic of conversation or commentary not being part of the family conversation over the holidays.


If you need further assistance in establishing boundaries with relatives, co-parents, or ex in-laws, please contact us here. We look forward to bringing you peace this holiday season!