Avoiding Family Conflict During the Holidays

Posted by Jason Gladfelter, M.A. on December 08, 2012  /   Posted in Family Options

Avoiding Family Conflict During the Holidays

Happy Holidays are not always so happy. You might actually be dreading a potential conflict or confrontation with a family member you have not seen since last December.  The anticipation of such conflict might even cause you stress. Getting together with your family can be an opportunity for tension to arise and disputes to erupt. This just adds to the anxiety already associated with the Holiday season—shopping, travel, traffic, endless Santa commercials, Black Friday, “seasonal” music, and so on.

Tensions exist. Everyone in your family is different, and those differences make them unique.  Disagreements do not go away if ignored and can come up at inopportune times—like holidays.  Understanding several factors that enhance tensions and differences is the first step to ease the holiday stress.

  • Anticipation: Keep in mind that anticipation for an event is usually worse than the event itself. Have you ever dreaded a situation, but then afterwards realized, “well, that wasn’t bad”?  The dread we feel weeks leading up to the family meeting just adds fuel to an unlit fire. Keep in mind that other family members may be experiencing the same dread.  One small spark can ignite a firestorm.
  • Acknowledgment: Since not thinking about it is not an option, nor a wise choice, we move to the next best thing: acknowledgment. Understand that, yes, there will be rough moments…this should not be surprising…and that you can be prepared to manage them effectively, if not efficiently.
  • Salience of Tension: Anticipation helps increase the strength of tense situations. That is, dreading the “question”, or the “speech” that some family member will inevitably bring up only makes the question/speech worse than it really is.  We’ve built it up in our minds.  And we deal with this anticipation in addition to our normal lives and the stress therein (work, friends, neighbors, etc.), which adds to the worry, which in turn worsens the situation.
  • Separate the situation from the person. This is not easy, but it helps.  We tend to attack the messenger, and not address the message. Yelling or snapping at someone does not help, and actually can make things worse. Keeping in mind the previous two aspects helps this separation. Maybe somebody verbally attacks you–resist the urge to return the favor.
  • Understand that not everyone will agree with what you say, think, believe, feel and do. Convincing them can be an exercise in futility, and probably would not change things anyway.
  • No Judging: Leave judgment in the car. Just as you have your own motives, so, too, others have theirs. If you do not like the way a family member lives that is fine—and that does not mean they are wrong.  Telling someone he/she is wrong will be met with defense, which can turn to offense. And the back and forth ensues.
  • Truth: A little bit of soft honesty can go a long way. Honesty about yourself, and not other people.  If you are uncomfortable talking about something, then say so…and give a little bit of an honest explanation to help others understand what you mean.
  • Confrontation: The Holiday season is no time to initiate confrontation. If you would like to confront someone, wait until later. If someone confronts you, say you understand and will talk about it later. There is simply too much stress to address disputes constructively during Holidays.  Maybe agree on a time/place after the holidays to talk things over. But, don’t use this as an excuse to not talk about it.  This will only make next year worse.

Some issues cannot be resolved. Others may take time.  This is no magic wand cure all, but with just a little bit of effort, understanding and patience (and maybe a touch of acceptance) can turn that holiday nightmare into an enjoyable time.

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