How to Handle Family Conflict This Holiday Season

How to Handle Family Conflict This Holiday Season

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With Thanksgiving behind you, chances are you already had your fill of family obligations. Those obligations, however, won’t go away unless you simply tell people you won’t participate in expected holiday season activities. That may not be a good approach especially if isolating yourself causes more problem for you and your loved ones.

Managing family conflict can seem difficult especially in families where expectations are high, unrealistic, or both. Here’s how you can manage the coming weeks while still enjoying the holiday season.

Manage Expectations

Your in-laws want to see you and your children on Christmas Day as does your own family. You prefer to spend the day at home and simply cannot stand the thought of traipsing from home to home to share Christmas cheer.

You and your spouse must be in full agreement as you plan your response. You may find that you can handle entertaining at your home, perhaps inviting one family for brunch and attending dinner at another family’s house.

Another option is have Christmas Eve dinner with one family and then spend Christmas Day with the other family. Or, you may be able to come to agreement on a day and time between the holidays. Expect that feelings may be hurt, but stand your ground. Explain your viewpoint and be mindful that others may disagree with you vehemently or attempt to drive a wedge between you and your spouse. Resolve to stand in one accord through this.

Listen, Then Let it Go

Know that someone, somewhere will say something that will offend you. Or at least make a point that you find disagreeable. You can find a way to listen to a person without agreeing with their point of view. As long as this individual is not being flagrantly offensive, learn how to hear them out and try to understand where they are coming from.

Gently steer the conversation away from talk that is offensive, belittling or very unpleasant. Short of excusing yourself, attempt to use a negative comment as a springboard for a different conversation. For instance, if the talk is about the new healthcare plan and the political fall out, you may be able to transition the conversation to a positive incident you had at the doctor’s office or share your experience in shopping for a new plan.

Apologize, if Needed

Sometimes family conflict can go on for years and no one will recall how it got started. Bitterness, envy and strife may remain, but there is one way that the conflict can be stopped: by apologizing.

Christine Vander Wielen of Practical Family Living urges people to ask God about people that they may have offended. When a person comes to mind, then go to that person and apologize. Make no excuses — take responsibility for your actions. And if you need to forgive someone, ask God to give you the strength to do so.

Think of Others

Sometimes we think of our own needs or the needs of our family members and put these first. That’s a natural response, but it can often limit us or change our perspective when we gather with family.

Try to understand the needs and desires of other people. For instance, elderly parents or other relatives may not be as flexible with their celebrating. Some people may find it difficult to host for hours on end, but are unable to visit you. In this case you may suggest stopping by for an hour or two following dinner, bringing dessert with you.

When to Leave

Vander Wielen gives people permission to leave a gathering that becomes troublesome or toxic. She suggests leaving without making a big deal of it to avoid exposing family members to an unhealthy event. Always set boundaries with difficult people and gently maintain them when conflict arises. You’ll know when it is time to leave and you’ll find a way to leave while maintaining peace.

See AlsoConflict Resolution in the Work Place

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