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Dealing with Family Conflict throughout Christmas

This page added 17 December 2012

By Melissa (ADAVIC Volunteer)

Christmas is synonymous with Santa, presents and family celebrations. Social ideologies also reinforce the view that Christmas is predominantly about family celebration. However, whilst the holidays can provide many opportunities to bond with relatives, Christmas can also emphasize familial relationships that are experiencing tension. This can impact upon other family members and perpetuate a stressful environment for all. Whilst most people approach family celebrations, such as Christmas, with good intentions, old rivalries, strained relationships or recent arguments are often challenging to overlook or disregard, even for a short amount of time. Furthermore, the responsibilities and expectations that accompany the festive season can also contribute to stress and perpetuate family conflict during Christmas.

Below are five identified strategies to deal with family conflict throughout Christmas:

  1. Communicate in a positive manner. The language and tone that you utilise when conversing with your family   members can either assist or hinder communication. Communication that contains sarcasm or insults is disrespectful and is not conducive to reducing conflict. Clear, concise, open communication can limit confusion and misunderstandings.
  2. Although easier said than done, try to be objective and void of emotion when negotiating with others. Strong emotions or power imbalances are commonly experienced during family conflict, as we are more closely invested in these relationships. However, in order to be able to communicate and reason effectively, it is important that emotions do not cloud your judgement with anger or resentment. This will enable you to listen and not just react.
  3. Respect each other’s point of view. Everyone is entitled to their own feelings, beliefs and opinions.  Agree to disagree when the issue cannot be resolved or when no common ground is established. Remember, others are not required to always agree with you on everything.
  4. Negotiate and compromise. Paying attention, actively listening and trying to understand the other person’s point of view can greatly facilitate negotiation and assist in a resolution to the pressing issue. Remember the objective is to ‘resolve the conflict, not win the argument’.
  5. Devise as many solutions to the problem as possible. This will assist both parties to settle on a solution that is acceptable and comfortable for those involved. Once the solution is determined – stick to it! Even write a contract if necessary.

In order to facilitate family cohesion during the festive season, five techniques to proactively preserve family relationships are listed below:

  1. Focus upon an individual’s enjoyable qualities, rather than their traits that irritate you. This will enable you to find some common ground where you can develop respect for the person.
  2. If possible, discuss any areas of concern with a family member before the festive season arrives so that the issue may be resolved. This reduces the chance that an underlying problem or recent disagreement will surface during Christmas day celebrations.
  3. Shift your concentration towards your children’s experiences of Christmas. Observe their happiness as they decorate the Christmas tree, examine various Christmas decorations and open presents. Enjoying Christmas through the eyes of children may help take your mind off your own issues and stress. Focusing on someone else’s experience may also help you reconsider your perspective and help you reflect on what is important.
  4. Schedule a day of rest before Christmas. Forget last minute shopping and ‘To Do’ lists and pamper yourself to alleviate any underlying tension you may have. This will enable you to manage any issues that arise with a calm, clear and rested mind.
  5. Finally, cautiously navigate through ongoing stressful familial relationships that are out of your control by employing strategies such as those mentioned above to minimise conflict when it arises.

Remember, occasional conflict is a normal part of every relationship. Be prepared for some issues to arise but aim to utilise conflict resolution strategies that will help diffuse the situation and not perpetuate discord. Try to enjoy the festive season without any expectations as this can lead to disappointment if your ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ Christmas day celebration does not   unfold. Finally, endeavour to accept your dysfunctional family as they are, as there is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ family. When problems arise, it is crucial to ask yourself, is this issue important and worth fighting over?



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