How to Reduce Conflict at Family Holiday Gatherings

Family fightsBeing With Family You Don’t Like.

For many families the holidays are special times to connect with loved ones they don’t see often but, it can also be stressful as a backdrop for opposing personalities to collide. What if you could get together for hours with your siblings, in-laws, step-family members, (and others) over a holiday meal and leave without arguing or fighting explosively with anyone? Here are some tips to help you have a happier family holiday this year.

Family conflict signs

Signs of Conflict

Look for the warning signs. If you see any of these behaviours unfolding in your conversation with a family member you might be on the edge of another unfriendly dispute. (Based on the conflict research by Dr. Rob Kendal, Psychology Today)

  1. Blaming. Energy is focused on assigning blame on the other for the problem instead of seeking a solution.
  2. Intensity. Emotions take over, the intensity rises, voices raise and threats and insults are hurled.
  3. Dismissal of the other’s ideas and feelings. (“Yes, but…”). The other party’s opinions and feelings are ignored because they differ from the speaker. Persons therefore become argumentative and defensive in order to get heard or to win the debate.
  4. Domination and control of the conversation. This may look like interrupting, completing the other’s sentences, steering the topic and flow of the conversation, etc.

How to Turn Things Around (Relationship Repair)

Okay, what if you tried to swerve around conversation dangers but you still find yourself in a dispute with your family nemesis? Here are a few strategies to try to reduce the damage and avoid ruining the party:

Help for Families iconExpress appreciation. According to J. Gottman (renowned relationship expert) taking a moment to acknowledge appreciation for the other person’s experience or willingness to express their differing ideas has been proven to soothe escalating persons. Say something like … “I didn’t know that you saw things that way, I’m glad you told me”.

Help for Families iconFocus the conversation on finding a solution instead of the complaints and blaming someone. Ask yourself and the other person, “What can I do to help the situation…?”

Help for Families iconRepeat what you’ve heard the other person saying. Hold back on putting forward your own perspective. Let them know you understand their position. Desist from offering your best, well-intentioned advice (even if it is also widely proven and endorsed by experts Smiling counsellor).

Help for Families iconAccept some responsibility. Look for how your actions or words might have contributed to the argument/fight. It is the more courageous, more mature position to say, “Can I take that back?” or, “You’re right, I could have been (more/less)…..” You can prove to be the better person and not make them bitter too.

Help for Families iconFinally, Escape. When you hear the argument intensifying and becoming hostile find a reason to excuse yourself. You could go get another helping of pie (or something), or help the host with a chore, or refresh yourself in the washroom.

Maybe Escape into a Kid Friendly Holiday Movie? – Suggestions here   

The chain linking family and fighting can be broken. By making attempts at some of the strategies mentioned you might be able to enjoy get-togethers without wishing for a resident family counsellor to mediate.

What ONE tip would you give to a friend about keeping the peace? Please, offer more help for families by adding your ideas below.

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Winter Family Fun Activities

Video (3min) -The Money Couple shares: 3 Ways To Stay Out of Debt During the Holidays

Help for Families Canada in  Edmonton  (Southside & Downtown) offers counselling for families to help them resolve conflicts and learn to enjoy each other.  (#family therapy, #counseling, #yeg)



Published by Help For Families Canada

Help for Families Canada is a counselling and consulting organisation serving Edmonton, locally, and families, globally. We specialise in offering child and family therapy for kids and parents via play therapy interventions.

5 thoughts on “How to Reduce Conflict at Family Holiday Gatherings

  1. Tania, thank you for this helpful essay. We’ve all been there and it’s difficult and sometimes painful. It was a good suggestion that you provided that we look at our own part. Holidays intensify feelings and throwing in some alcohol can fuel things even more. Oh boy.

    1. Thanks Mary Jane for reading, liking and sharing your thoughts on my post. Family is a very complex organism. Love is there but when there are aspects of poor functioning conflict arises. Sometimes the alchohol is the problem, sometimes it is the catalyst that ignites even small issues and turns them into enflaming volcanoes, burning everything in its eruption. In cases of these where kids are exposed to frightening rage it is best to escape the very situation, taking the kids out with you. Keep strong. There is always hope for things changing. You resisting to be drawn into fights WILL change the dynamics in time.
      Please, keep in touch.

  2. If there is vertex person that you think he will be in comfiest with you
    It’s nice to bring a simple gift to him or her
    That will reduce the potential of grating that kind of conflict
    Also try to present the positive things in his or her behaviour or speak

    1. Waleed.
      Thanks for reading and adding a valuable comment to my post. True. A mans gift will make room for him. Especially if it is something they really aligns with their interests. Yes, sometimes people aren’t even aware of the negative interpretation of their behaviours/actions and when we point out the positive aspects we encourage them to become more aware of BEING more positive.
      Thanks for sharing Waleed. Please keep in touch. I’d invite you to follow-us or subscribe if you’d like.
      Happy New Year to you.

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