Family Conflict and Communication During the Holiday Season by Katarina Kiseli, Counseling Intern
The holiday season can be a time to join together with loved ones, celebrate long-held traditions, and unite with people you may not have seen in a very long time. Yet, for others, the holiday season brings out the worst in families and promotes further conflict. For some families, the holiday shines a light on the evident communication difficulties. Despite the conflict, however, families repeat the cycle year after year without making any changes to reduce the stress. This article aims to provide the reader with just that: an understanding of why conflict occurs along with some tips on how to better communicate with their families and avoid conflict during the holiday season. There are a number of research studies done on this very topic due to the fact that the holiday season can bring out all of the hidden communication difficulties and shine a bright light on them.
For starters, it can be helpful to know why conflict sometimes arises in families, and a helpful framework to utilize is the two conceptual orientations termed conformity orientation and conversation orientation (Family Conflict and Communication, 2015). For some families, they have high conformity and low conversation, which means that rules are followed and no one questions the structure. Conformity means that the family supports similar values and structure. On the other hand, some families have high conversation orientations, meaning that they will often communicate and promote listening. Neither orientation is better than the other; actually, the balance is somewhere in the middle because the key to successfully navigating conflict is respect and communication. “Conflict between parents and adolescents is commonly rooted in violated expectations, a renegotiation of the influence of parents, and the freedom of adolescents to develop independent identities and values” (Family Conflict and Communication, 2015). So, allowing some flexibility (moderate conformity) and promoting productive conversation (high conversation) can produce the least stressful dynamics in any family.
Relating this specifically to the holidays, research has shown that: “Planning for holidays can involve a lot of debate and conflicts within the unit, i.e. the family.” For example, financial constraints, age and status of family members, religious background, and values are all embroiled during the holidays (Singh & Nayak, 2016). Therefore, your family’s general dynamics of conformity or conversation will only be further challenged for the holidays. Although not all conflict is bad, the conflict turns bad when it produces patterns of stress, fatigue, physical ailments, and anger.
For these reasons, I provide some tips to help you navigate conflict in the family specifically during the holiday season so that you can enjoy your holidays and avoid escalating long-held family conflict patterns.
Tip #1: Set Boundaries/Take Time for Yourself
Remember – you don’t have to spend every minute with your family just because it is the holiday season. You can go for a long walk or arrive at your family’s house a tad later if you need the space. Don’t feel like you MUST do anything.
Tip #2: Focus less on “what you have to do” and focus more on what is right
A fun sub-tip for this one is to try out something new each year to keep it fun and exciting. Often, traditions can be fun; however, other times, they cause more stress than is needed. The holidays should be about the positives, and you don’t always have to stick with the old if it does not work anymore.
Tip #3: Set Realistic Expectations
As with any conflict-ridden situation, you can only control you and your reactions. If you have a family member who always picks fights and discusses topics that anger you, it is best to simply not engage with that person or find a different person to talk to. Setting yourself up to succeed, not expect something different, will keep your focus realistic and surround yourself with your favorite people in the family. You will find your supports NOT your constraints. Don’t fight a battle you know will only hurt you.
Tip #4: Take care of #1 first
Again, we cannot control others. We can, however, make sure that we are taking care of ourselves through emotional wellness and self-care tactics. Ensuring you focus on sleep, hydration, walking/physical wellness, reading, meditating, and other wellness areas puts you in the best position to have a positive mindset and further engender positivity.
Final Thoughts on Productive Conflict Resolution Strategies and Communication Tips
Use I statements not YOU statements: The former sounds like a personal idea; the latter sounds blaming.
When the situation starts to escalate, it is okay to stop and take a break.
You can only control you. Focusing on how you react is all that you can do.
Have additional questions? Check out our other resources on SAW Counseling Center’s website, particularly our Blog. Additionally, If you would like to meet with a mental health professional, several therapists, associate therapists, and therapists in training are available at SAW Counseling Center.
Singh, R., & Nayak, J. K. (2016). Parent-adolescent conflict and choice of conflict resolution strategy: Familial holiday planning. The International Journal of Conflict Management, 27(1), 88–115. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCMA-04-2014-0025
Family Conflict and Communication. (2015). In The SAGE Handbook of Family Communication (p. 91–). SAGE Publications, Inc. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781483375366.n6