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Tips & Tricks: Shutting Down Family Criticism


It can be super stressful during a divorce to have to field a bunch of well-meaning relatives - especially during the holidays.


You get Nosy Aunt Rosie asking questions about the divorce, or your parents lamenting that “they never liked him, anyway” (that’s what I got). Drunken Cousin Danny might want to go out and “pop that no-good SOB in the nose.” What do you do with all that?


Take these steps to deflect nosy questions and dodge the criticism you might get during the holidays.


Remember why they’re behaving the way they are. Instead of getting angry at questions and comments, remember that your family cares about you. This doesn’t justify their bad behavior, but understanding that their motives are pure helps cut down your anger and helps you stay calm.


Use Reflective Listening.

Reflective Listening is reflecting back what another person says to you. This is a key strategy in managing conflict and deflecting criticism.


Reflective Listening statements sound like these:

“It sounds like you think I shouldn’t have done that…”

“It seems like you want me to finish this later…”

“It looks like you feel angry about what I just did…”


Most of us just want to be heard and understood. By saying things like, “Wow, you sound angry!” or, “It seems like you’re really frustrated right now,” you may open up a dialogue, make someone else feel wonderful, and/or discover that their upset really has nothing to do with you (which is usually the case).


Deflect Criticism. A great way to deflect criticism is to agree with it. Agreeing with it guarantees that you’ll shut down the critic and stop an argument from developing. “You may be right. You’ve given me something to think about,” or, “Thanks for caring enough to let me know when you feel I’m making a mistake.”


Deflecting criticism usually means “assuming” the intention is good - acting as though it was a compliment to turn it around. Say things like, “I’m grateful that you love me enough to worry about this!” This will shut down criticism without hurting feelings.


Use an XYZ statement to set the limit. "When you do X, I feel Y. I’d really like Z.” For example, “When you keep asking about my divorce, I get angry. I’d like to talk about something else." XYZ statements should be used only when you've tried everything else. Tone is everything, so keep it light!


Don’t forget to stay calm. Think about how you want to feel at the end of the day! Even if you make mistakes or things don’t go as planned, there are valuable lessons you can learn - and carry forward to the next holiday gathering!


Susan Petang is a Certified Stress Management Coach who helps divorcing women navigate the emotional roller coaster of divorce, and get through tough days in one piece.