Paradoxically, holidays can be the most stressful time. Just when we want to kick back and chill, our relationships can cause us more conflict than when life is just chugging along in a routine.
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Why is this, and what can we do to avoid arguments and ill-feeling and just enjoy some seasonal down-time.
The why is not difficult to answer. Holidays can be a perfect storm of relationship and family trouble. People who are normally only half-connected are ‘forced’ to spend intense time together, long-held traditions are often played out with rictus grins barely concealing deep irritation, and the distance of those who are missing from the picture is felt more deeply than ever. The festive season that is portrayed by the media as a time of family joy but it is the most common time for major disagreements which can cause deep anger and hurt feelings. Differences between people are amplified, and expectations lead to all kinds of conflicts and a mine-field of pain.
So, what can be done to smooth the way to a holiday season that builds and strengthens your relationship rather than is corrosive? In no particular order, here are some suggestions:
1. Avoid any situation that you know is likely to provoke or antagonise. It sounds obvious and simple, but simply being the ‘bigger’ person and diplomatically avoiding any line-up of provocations is mature and wise. Confrontation may be unavoidable, but at least try and dodge them as much as you can.
2. Offer appreciation whenever you have the chance. We all like to be told that we are appreciated, and an unsolicited appreciation to your partner can undermine and defuse any build-up of conflicted feelings or annoyance. Best to use the phrases: ‘One thing I really appreciate is …’ followed by ‘and when that happens I feel ….’
3. Don’t hold grudges. Accept that you will have differences, and that compromise is essential for a smooth holiday. Try not to go to sleep feeling annoyed or unheard – there are processes and dialogue structures you can use to open and manage a civil respectful conversation. Be conscious that the relationship is where it is now, not where it used to be or where you’d like it to be. Let go of any expectations and allow space and time to do their healing.
4. Try hard to listen. It is very human to want to have the last word, and to talk and talk until you feel you have said your piece. But sometimes it is more important for the other to feel heard, because that will take the heat out of the situation and allow both of you to calm down a little. Allowing the other to vent and to reflect back what you have heard is immensely powerful.
5. Take responsibility for any issues that you may have created, or at least not improved. It takes a grown-up person to admit to their mistakes and a secure person to accept that we are different, diverse and no-one is particularly in the right or wrong. There are those relatives who will fan the flames and will make healing difficult, but if you can be clear about your own mistakes and own up to them, you may find that the situation will be defused.
6. Don’t shame, blame, stonewall or criticise. It can be hard to hold your tongue, or to be polite when you feel you are being disrespected, but it is the more mature and healing thing to do. Try not to give unsolicited advice and try not to be demanding. Be as easy to be with as you can be.
7. Don’t feel guilty. Guilt can breed anger which gives rise to a whole range of other issues, so if you feel you really have avoided any situation you knew would inflame, and you have avoided giving advice, or criticising, and have been as pleasant as you can be without stonewalling, you have done the best you can. So if someone else blames you or insinuates that you could have done better, gently bat that thought back to them with the thinking that its not true, you are blame-free and are right to be guilt-less.
8. Initiate the peace. Even if it is clear that someone else should take responsibility and you have done nothing to create or inflame the situation, it is still worthy to start the peace process by apologising and offering an olive branch. Try to be caring, grounded and available to facilitate any healing that is possible. Remember that there are no prizes for being the one that is ‘right’ but plenty of kudos for being the one able to start over with forgiveness.
If you find that the holiday season has started World War 3 and the relationship has great big glaring holes in it, seek professional advice and invest in some sessions with a qualified practitioner and couples counsellor.
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