How to Handle Sensitive Topics with Family

How do you deal with sensitive topics at the dinner table? Boundaries are one way but there are a lot of ways to do this that will work for you and is not hurtful to other people.

Dr. Laura Dabney discusses helpful ways to handle sensitive situations with extended family.


Look in The Past


One way to handle an annual situation is to look back in the past and see how it went. People often forget to do this but it’s so helpful! Past tendencies are the best predictor of future tendencies.

If you have had a get-together with family and several times in the past things have gone bad, it’s up to you to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it.

It’s helpful to go over the situation with someone, explain how it usually goes, and figure out where it goes wrong.

Let’s say it’s somebody or a group, maybe it’s time to consider not inviting this group or person. If you are worried about offending someone by doing this, there’s a lot of normal social ways to do this. You don’t have to explain yourself but it is nice to give a you-centered, brief, general statement.

“We’re cutting back, we hope to see him another time.”

“We decided not to have this event this year, we needed a change.”

You don’t have to have the same people over every time if it hasn’t gone well. It’s time to find new people to get together with. It’s okay to say no, or decline an invitation.


Don’t go in Blind


If you are having an event or you’re going to an event that has not gone well in the past, such as awkward silences, or sensitive topics, be equipped with ammunition. Be prepared with general topics to talk about in advance to keep the conversations about something you want to talk about.

Another option is to have a task lined up if the awkwardness sets in. Have something you can do to step away. Such as an email you have to respond to, or notes you need to write and excuse yourself. If politics get brought up or a sensitive topic, go ahead and step away.


Have a Plan Ready


If you look back and this is the type of situation that is great at the beginning but takes a turn for the worse by the end, then go ahead and cut out before the end comes.

There is nothing wrong with saying you have another event to go to afterward, even if it’s binging Netflix with your significant other. You don’t have to say what the event is or all of the details. Simply say we have another event to attend, we’re going to cut out before dessert. Having another event ready to go is a great way to deal with the family gatherings that tend to go south.

There is no point to keep going back into these situations without giving it more thought and having a plan.


For more on this topic, check out the previous articles

How to Handle Stressful Situations with Extended Family

How to Deal With Fractured Family Traditions


If you would like more information on how to deal with sensitive topics, click here. For more topics, go to www.drldabney.com.


When you are ready, I want to help you create healthy relationships. Healthy relationships lead to a more fulfilling life!

Here are 4 ways we can do this together:
  1. Find out the top 4 “get out now” red flags in relationships. Click Here.
  2. Learn how to read all of the red flags in your relationships! Recognizing the top behaviors leading to toxic relationships is important when pursuing healthy relationships. Click Here.
  3. Take matters into your own hands, with guidance from Dr. Dabney. The Intimacy Now Program will help you find more constructive ways to handle your relationship issues, learn how to achieve mutual understanding, and free yourself from bickering, walking on eggshells, or a sense of loss. Click Here. 
  4. All hands on deck! Work directly with Dr. Dabney through Video Coaching, or Email Coaching.


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1 Comment

  1. Joey



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