Dear Annie: Politics took over as the main topic at our holiday dinner. I don’t mind open debate among parties with differing views, as long as those debating have logical and fact-supported positions. Our dinner usually goes smoothly, as everyone gets along and, despite differing opinions, we all can adequately defend our positions. Dinner will come and go, and all are happy.

This year, my dad’s brother joined us for dinner. He recently got divorced and was angry that he was with us and not his family. He was taking outlandish positions and making up arguments to support himself. He attacked everyone. The whole table was ignoring him, but I couldn’t help it and continued to engage. It made for an unpleasant experience for me and for all involved. What’s the best way to bury my desire to engage with someone like this?

— Hoping for a Better Family Dinner

Dear Hoping: As Mark Twain said, “never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” Try to bring that quotation to mind the next time your uncle tries dragging you down into the mud for a fight. Another strategy is counting to 10 and, if you’re still angry, counting to 20. If you’re still angry after that, try excusing yourself to the bathroom for a few minutes to regain your composure.

As far as including him in future plans goes, though it’s important to support family during tough emotional times, that doesn’t mean enduring verbal abuse. Set boundaries, and don’t feel obligated to extend him an invitation to your next gathering if he can’t agree to behave in a respectful manner.

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