If you’re fighting with someone in your family, you might want to hurry up and call a truce.

The holiday season can be a good excuse for estranged relatives to reconcile. But you’ll need to start the process well before you sit down at your big family gathering, says Melanie Booth-Butterfield, a professor in the department of communication studies at West Virginia University, who has lectured on how to manage family disputes and developed a step-by-step approach for reconciliation.

“There’s a lot of pressure for the holidays to be perfect, for everyone to be together and be happy,” says Ms. Booth-Butterfield. If you’ve been sparring with someone you love and want to repair the bond, she says, “it’s much better to have a lot of smaller talks starting somewhere neutral, like Starbucks.”

How do you repair a serious rupture in a relationship?

More on this...

Start with yourself, Dr. Booth-Butterfield says. Stop ruminating on the issues that caused the rift. When you dwell on negative thoughts you create a downward spiral, she says. Each bad thought leads to another. Break this pattern by replacing the negative thoughts with something else. Think of a beautiful view, such as a sunset. Listen to happy music. Watch a funny movie. Read a great book. Play with a puppy.