6 Tips for Maximizing Family Togetherness (and Avoiding Conflict)

One of the greatest things about the holiday season can also be the most challenging:

“Hooray! The whole family will be together!”
“Oh nooooo! The whole family will be together!”
Even the happiest of families has conflict, especially when large numbers of people are indoors for extended periods. Add to the mixture the complexity of holiday activities and expectations, kids coming home from college, relatives travelling from afar, and other friends and family popping in and out. It’s not hard to see why the holidays can be stressful on our relationships!

It helps to have a good strategy for dealing with the (inevitable) conflicts that will surface when extended family and friends gather. When tension or arguments arise, you’ll be able to keep your cool, extend grace, and navigate the holidays with a “peace on earth and goodwill toward men” mentality!

Here are six tips to help you manage (and preferably avoid!) conflict this holiday season:

Be sensitive to the need for private space. Having a full house during the holiday season means that people who typically do not live together are now under one roof. This can be particularly stressful for teens in the family, and for “introverts” who tend to feel drained rather than energized by crowds of people. Sometimes this is hard for the “extroverts” to relate to! Respecting these differing needs for personal space can help avoid resentment and conflict.
Ask yourself, “Does this issue need to be addressed now?” Keep your emotions in check; pause before you respond to a snide comment, an inconvenient request, an entitled attitude, a grievance, or even a simple difference of opinion. The less we react emotionally in the moment, the more we’re able to respond gracefully and tactfully at the right time with the right attitude. Circle back to discuss the problem when you are feeling less heated about it. You may find it doesn’t need to be discussed at all.
If it does need to be addressed now, respect yourself and your right to be heard. Sometimes we allow others to intimidate or dominate us out of fear or embarrassment. Although conflict is uncomfortable, sometimes we do need to speak up about an obvious problem that is causing distress for us or another person. In the process, we want to respect ourselves by speaking up about it, while being respectful to the other party.
Strive to be an agreeable disagreer. So often, conflict arises from misunderstandings that could have been prevented or at least controlled. Sometimes they’re based on different philosophical views or perspectives where there isn’t a right or wrong answer (Hello politics!). Always strive for mutual understanding, but agree to disagree if that’s the case. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. If needed, have a heartfelt conversation about it once things have calmed.
Choose reconciliation over grudges wherever possible. We’ve all been victims of a wrong, and injustice, or a mistake. It causes anger, shame, resentment, depression, and worse. When we harbor grudges or struggle to forgive, it can be like an all-consuming cancer, and generally the person who suffers for it is you. Strive for forgiveness, and reconciliation whenever possible—and don’t hesitate to seek support.
Remember “FLPP.” In our book Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, we offer a strategy for dealing with conflict, restoring strained relationships, and rebuilding trust. It involves keeping your communication with that person FREQUENT, LOW-RISK, POSITIVE, and PERSONAL. What can you talk about that doesn’t provoke irritation or conflict, is encouraging and positive, and shows you care? Focus on these kinds of interactions to build a platform for deeper conversations at a later date.

May your holidays be peaceful and merry!

We’d love to hear your stories about how you avoid or negotiate conflict in your family over the holidays. Please share your thoughts and suggestions. We can all learn from one another!

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