Along with stuffing our faces, opening gifts and watching sports, there is another ritual we experience every holiday season — spending time with (or trying to avoid) our in-laws. Mix together family members, alcohol, memories and lots of emotion and you have a recipe for a potentially combustible situation.

It doesn't have it to be negative. There are things you can do — even some ahead of time — to defuse the angst and attempt to lay the foundation for a positive, uplifting family gathering.

Here are a few ideas:

1. Work Ahead

Take stock right now of any lingering issues that have been bubbling between you and your in-laws. Is there common ground that you could find before the holidays arrive? If so, consider reaching out to them in hopes of smoothing things over before the festivities.

2. Get Together More Often

Maybe the solution is not to see less of your in-laws, but more. Think about it. If you see your in-laws more often throughout the year, maybe you can establish more of a relationship with them that will allow the holidays to be less drama-filled.

3. Find Common Ground

When you get together with your in-laws try to find common ground. Is it sports? Politics? Work? Is there one family member that you get along better with than most? Spend time with that person. If all else fails, there's probably at least one thing you have in common — love for your children. Focus on the kids and the fun they'll be having during the holidays and that should help ease any uncomfortable moments.

4. Avoid Hot Button Topics

At all costs, avoid topics or issues that you know will provoke an argument or heated discussion. Resolve to leave the past in the past and refrain from dredging up old arguments. Also, do not allow yourself to be baited into reacting. If someone is trying to push your buttons and provoke you, be the bigger person and laugh it off or simply walk away.

5. Have a Retreat

Speaking of walking away, determine ahead of time a good place to retreat to, if necessary. If you need space, think of a place in the house or outside where you can escape for a little while during the get-together. Cool off, clear your head and gather the courage to return.

6. Have Patience

Understand going in that spending time with your in-laws will be a challenge. Take steps to amp up your patience and try to discover if there are compromises that you can make to improve the atmosphere. Be honest with yourself. Maybe there are areas of your behavior that you can alter for the good of the group.

7. Don't Let Them See You Sweat

If things get testy or challenging, resolve to not let your kids see you upset or angry. You need to be an example to your children of how to conduct yourself when things don't go your way or when someone upsets you.