Oh—so you think that just because you are together with your family that it’s a good time to have one of those heart-to-hearts where you grab the opportunity to air your emotional hurts and open wounds. Well, not so fast. It just may not be the best time to settle your grievances.

Why It May Not be a Good Idea

1. The Power of Emotional Time Travel. When you get together with your extended family, the “home” you are going to is not in the present: You are going home emotionally to the one from your past. You start your journey as adult and end up as a child. Welcome to the world of Emotional Time Travel. As a result you bring all your old defenses and behaviors. For example, if you tended to sulk or get snippy as a child, then exposure to your family will tend to activate the old you. It’s as though you fall back into your old groove. Don’t underestimate the power of the family. Think of the weakening effect of kryptonite on Superman.

2. Family Reactivity. People tend to be the most emotionally reactive when face to face. Blindsiding your family members with hot topics will most likely activate their Emotional Default Drives and bring out the worst in them—and you as well!

3. Old Views of You. Stirring up the family can create factions, taint the atmosphere and sustain the family’s old and negative image of you.

However, having heart to heart talks can be a good idea if you take the following tips. And, even if you don’t have any issues to settle, these tips may keep you from falling into your old, ineffective family groove. The goals are to present your best self so you can bring out the best in others and build healthy bonds.

If you sustain these new behaviors over time, you will increase the possibility of having a positive and effective conversation during the holiday celebration. However, don’t air all your grievances at once. Changing family patterns takes time. Pick one issue—but make sure you offer a solution. If your communication has been smooth, you can initiate some talk about the issue in your texts, emails and cards. A good guide is to limit your discussion to about three to five sentences—but not long ones!

Wiser and More Effective Ways to Build a Better, Stronger and Loving Family

1. Early Bonds. Start building new and different relationship patterns with your family early. There are so many meaningful and powerful ways to do this. Send emails, text messages or snail mail cards for their birthdays and other events. Inquire about important things in their lives such as their health, job or vacation. Tell them good things about you. Thank them for something that you appreciate or learned from them. Ask them to write you or send a recording of their life or fond family memories. Tell them you are creating a family journal of all these memories and stories.

2. Thankfulness, Praise and Surprise. When you are all gathered at the table or your family focal spot, speak up and say you would like to go around the room or table and say thanks and praise to each person. You will feel awkward because it doesn’t “seem like you” and because it is “out of the family groove” and will shake everyone up. Well, the element of surprise is one of your most powerful tools for changing family communication patterns and their inaccurate view of you.

3. Triggers and New Style. Before you go, get mindful of what exactly sets you off. Write down your hot topics and what you and your family members typically feel, say and do. For example, if your hot topic is being single or divorced, think about what family members say or ask you. What do you usually say or feel? Make a list of the things you dread most about going home again. The goal is to be prepared.

Change your thinking about their behavior. Keep in mind that what they say tells you more about them than it does about you.

Develop a new style. As soon as someone says their usual things (“Are you seeing anyone?” “Are you still dating so-and-so?” “Are you still working in that place?” “Thirty-five—aren’t you working on having children?”), be ready to do these two potent things:

Thank
 the person for their concern (it is a mixed up way of saying they care)

Ask for their advice (their remarks are also a mixed up way of asking to be valued and included).

You might be surprised at their responses. Often, people get the message that they are not being helpful, but they also hear that they are appreciated.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D, MSS, MA, is a nationally recognized psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializing in women's issues in love, life, work, and family. Sign up on her website, http://www.lovevictory.com, to receive free advice, blog, cartoon, and information about her two upcoming research-based, self-help books for women: The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie-a cartoon, self-help book and Smart Relationships. You can follow Dr. Wish on Twitter.