Michelle Rupp: Ken Clarke from Chenal Family Therapy joins us now. Hi, Ken, how are you?

Ken Clarke: Happy holiday, sort of? We’re getting there.

MR: Thanksgiving is right around the corner. We are there. And so, Ken, how do we keep the peace at the Thanksgiving table this year?

KC: What are you talking about? There’s nothing to argue about. Nobody’s going to get mad about politics or masks or anything else. Right?

MR: We probably have more issues going into this Thanksgiving than we ever have in 2000 years. Right?

KC: And on the year where we should be talking about football in Arkansas. I’ll tell you. It’s a deliberate choice. Failure to plan is planning to fail. You need to go into the holidays with a game plan, and part of that plan is a decision not to engage in some of these topics. We must remember that probably 60-70% of what humans argue about, whether it’s within marriages or families or about where to park the car at Walmart, they’re foundational differences that people never actually agree on. These arguments, whether they’re big things or small things, very rarely result in somebody doing the facepalm and saying, “You’re right, I totally changed my opinion.” So, knowing that, we should decide to walk into the holidays not engaging in something that doesn’t have a great outcome anyway. That means there are probably certain topics that we need to decide in advance that we are not going to take the bait on no matter how much mom, dad, the kids, or uncle’s opinion is absurd and different than ours that it goes nowhere, right? So that’s number one. 

Number two, we know that around a lot of this highly contentious stuff swirling around in our atmosphere right now in our relationships, there is a sense of rejection that both sides are experiencing. Both sides feel like whatever the issue is, the other side thinks you’re stupid and deceived. If we go into the holidays being deliberate about making sure that the people in our lives know that they are liked, not just loved, but enjoyed. That helps counteract that sense of rejection and lowers the anticipation of a fight. In general, people don’t want to screw up things that are going well. If you can contribute to it going well and people feeling connected right out of the gate, then we’re going to be in good shape.

Last but not least, I would tell you just from a discretion is the better part of valor type mindset, I would take a social media fast or break for a couple of days before you walk in there. The last thing you need to be doing while you’re sitting in the car and somebody’s putting on makeup is reading through your Facebook posts, getting fired up, waiting to walk in the house and take that out on a family member. Deescalate yourself. Do a little bit of a hiatus from all the stuff that gets us so frothed up.

Those are my big three tips out of the gate

MR: Those hiatuses, you can do those anytime of the year. Just give yourself a break from it. 

So, we’ve done our due diligence, right? It’s a grateful, thankful season. We’re practicing gratitude. We’ve got our proper mindset. We’re going to go in, we’re going to be kind, and we’re not going to take the bait. But you’ve got other family members coming to the table who maybe aren’t practicing gratitude, and they are locked and loaded and cannot wait to pounce. What are a few ways to deescalate the situation rather than just pushing back from the table, jumping up, and walking out of the room? To not engage but stay respectful too. You’re in your grandma’s house, for crying out loud, or you’re in your parents’ house. There is still a level of respect you need to show in the home.

KC: Yes. And respect doesn’t mean that we ever need to sit there and take abuse or mistreatment. But we need to, again, work to kind of untangle the fact that a difference in opinion isn’t necessarily abuse just because somebody gets excited about it. A couple of things, probably three tips … One, it’s very okay to draw a boundary, and it’s actually a loving thing to draw a boundary to say to somebody, “Hey, I want to have a great thanksgiving with you. I enjoy it. Let’s not do this one over pumpkin pie.  Let’s not waste the moment. That’s an act of love, and it can be communicated like that. We can draw boundaries but in a kind way.

If somebody doesn’t observe a boundary, I’m a big fan of leaving an ingredient in the trunk of your car. This is my tip for everybody. Leave something in your car that if you need to go get it, you have an excuse. Forget something at the store, but it’s really in your trunk. Find a way to have a momentary exit. Take a phone call, do something, but excuse yourself, gather your thoughts, and let the conversation change focus, and then re-engage. Know what your exit plan is if you need a five-minute or a 25-minute time out.

And then third, just change the subject by asking the bait caster, you know the person trying to reel you in, ask them about something in their life. We’re all inherently kind of needy, selfish creatures. As Dale Carnegie says, there’s no sweeter sound than the sound of our name on somebody else’s lips, right? So, whoever is trying to tell you about whatever they read on social media, look at them and say, “Hey, so how’s it going with that car you’re fixing?” or, “What are you guys doing in the new year?” Change the subject and make it about them. Show genuine interest. A lot of people find that engaging and flattering instead of rejecting. They’ll take that bait, which is a lot healthier. You can distract the conversation.

MR: For many, the holiday season is a great time of year that you look forward to. But there are just as many people for who the holiday season is not particularly an enjoyable time of the year. What do you say to those who may be looking at the calendar going, “Man, we’re about to embark in the dark time?” That time between Thanksgiving and just surviving until the new year. How do you speak to those individuals?

KC: So, one, it’s a lot of people, and it’s many people who didn’t expect it this year or last year, right? Our lives change, and we don’t always have to have had dark holiday seasons to have one this year. It could be the year that you lost somebody. There’s a lot of loss floating around right now. So don’t be surprised if it catches you off guard.

Number two, my biggest tip is, we’re all trying to use up our flexible spending accounts anyway. This is a great time to start therapy. Proactively going in and just having somebody available to process with you. You don’t have to be working on specific issues. Having that regular check-in during this heightened season, it’s a great time to start mental health, and most of us have some health plan dollars that we need to use up, or we’ve already hit our out-of-pocket maxes. Things like that.

Third, don’t try and go it alone. One of the great human moments is when we realize other people are struggling with the same things. Often leadership just means going first and saying, “Hey, is anybody else having a heck of a time surviving this year?” Try it on your Facebook. You’ll watch 50 people raise their hand and say, “Oh my gosh, I’m struggling. My kids are struggling.” So, don’t try and go it alone. Talk with your friends and family. Check in with your strong friends. Some of us who are carrying the most and have the least option of crumbling are also pushing this down the hardest. Ask the person who always seems to be strong how they’re doing. My big advice is to ask comparative questions. Like any of us as parents who ask our middle schooler, “How is school?” And they just look at us and say, “Fine.” That’s not much of a usable answer. Don’t ask somebody, “How are you doing?” or “Are you doing okay.?” Ask them a comparative question. Ask them, “What’s the best part of the holiday season for you? What’s the worst part? Where are you doing the best, and where are you struggling?” When we ask questions like that, we often get more unfurling of what’s going on inside somebody. So don’t go it alone. Get some therapy. And wear it on your sleeve. We’re all struggling. For some, the only question is, how much?

MR: That’s right. All right, Ken. Great advice as always. Thank you so much for joining us today, and happy Thanksgiving.

KC: You too. It’s always great being here. Thanks for all the great work you’re doing.