Inevitably, your uncle is going to have a few too many; your aunt will start a political argument; your cousin is going to brag about her kids (while demeaning yours); your mother-in-law won’t like your apple pie; and of course your parents will be upset that you can’t come over for Christmas AND Christmas Eve. Sound familiar? Depending on how stressful your family is, you might want “the most wonderful time of the year” to be over before it even begins.
Conflict is an inevitable part of life, especially within families. And, because we don’t get to pick our families like we do our friends, conflict becomes all the more prevalent. You aren’t alone in this struggle. There are many tools to ensure you’re properly equipped to handle family conflict over the holidays:
It’s OK to lower your expectations
You might want this to be the year that everything changes, that everyone gets along, and that nobody mentions politics, but to be frank, it probably won’t happen. When you’re realistic about knowing what you’re getting into before family gatherings, you will be less likely to experience disappointment. You’ll also be more inclined to be pleasantly surprised if things do get off on the right foot.
Remember you are in control of your emotions
Unfortunately, we can’t control anyone else, just ourselves. We can’t dictate what others are going to say, we can only dictate how we respond to it. It’s important to practice radical acceptance regarding this fact. Instead of trying to cater to everybody else’s emotional needs, focus on your own instead. If you want to survive (and potentially thrive during) the holidays, it’s also crucial to remember that other people’s problems or comments don’t necessarily have to do with you. Other people’s comments say much more about them than they do about you.
Don’t hang your hat on the happiness of others
Regardless of your family situation, the holidays CAN be a time filled with joy, merriment, and cheer. The negativity of others doesn’t have to steal that from you. While easier said than done, letting go of the pessimistic comments and creating happiness for yourself is possible. Enjoy the traditions that nourish you, and ditch the ones that drain you.
Agree to disagree
As mentioned earlier, you can’t control anyone else’s emotions, and you also can’t control anyone else’s opinions. Instead of spinning your wheels trying to get your family to agree with you, try to accept the fact that everybody has different opinions, values, and beliefs. Try to be the bigger person; instead of instigating someone by continuing to argue, step up and suggest that you both should just agree to disagree. Or, use it as an opportunity to be curious about a different view point. If you must change the subject, move on to lighter topics, even if they might feel superficial.
Come up with an escape plan
Just because you’re with family, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re emotionally safe. Be mindful of your emotional state. Notice when you are beginning to feel uneasy. If you have reached your limit, it’s okay to remove yourself from the situation – either emotionally or physically. Opt out of conversations that make you feel uncomfortable; if you have a big family, find somebody else to engage with. If you really feel like your emotional wellbeing is at risk, you can remove yourself from the situation entirely. In a season of giving, remember to spend time on self-care as well.
Like the rest of life, the holiday season is more complicated than what advertising would like us to believe. However, no matter how difficult the holidays may be, the best way to handle conflict and incompatible opinions is to be prepared. Enter your family holiday visits with a prepared and realistic outlook and know that you have the tools above to help you manage if interactions become challenging.
To schedule an appointment with one of the counselors at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin, call 512-270-4883, or complete the form on the RCC Austin Scheduling Page to request an appointment.