Family fighting during the holidays is not new. Whole sitcoms are written about family squabbles and tense moments and they always end with a happy feel-good moment which might not be reality. This year is more challenging because in many families there are different views of the pandemic and what the restrictions mean for them. Family members are getting caught in the middle of the argument about what is appropriate for the celebrations. How do you resolve these conflicts?
Remember You’re Family
Often during an argument or conflict we forget that everyone is in this together. Overall, we want what is best for our family. Reminding yourself that they are trying to do their best in a difficult situation, and you are trying to do your best in a difficult situation will help you to be able to start to see the situation through their eyes. Once empathy for their situation starts to grow it will be easier to come up with a solution to the conflict.
Think it Through
Take a step back from the argument and think about what your thoughts and beliefs are on the subject. Ask yourself what you want for the festivities and how you could contribute to helping that happen. If it is that you want a calm, argument free day, think through things that would help make that possible especially the ones that you are in control of, such as, your own emotions and thoughts. Then design a plan for how you will manage your behaviours and emotions that day.
Pick a Place and Time to Talk it Out
Once you have decided your own thoughts on the subject set up a time with the other family member(s) to chat about the topic. Be specific in the invitation about what the topic is that you are asking them to talk about so that they are prepared. Set a specific date and time for the conversation and keep the commitment.
Often arguments escalate because name calling starts. Be open to the other person’s ideas or different opinions. Remembering that you are family, and it is ok to disagree.
Focus on the What not the Who
Finger pointing or attacking the other person with our words can cause inner defenses to rise which then causes a circular conversation instead of one that finds resolution. Instead of pointing out things that the other person does, focus on the what. Let’s use an example: A person chooses not to wear a mask. Instead of saying, you’re the problem cause you won’t wear a mask, try saying, when a mask isn’t worn, it causes me anxiety. That points to the problem being with an object instead of the person. If you look back at that statement, you probably have already come up with a solution because now we are trying to fix a what instead of a who.
Don’t Be Afraid of Walking Away
Sometimes when we try our best to have a healthy conversation the other person is not ready for it. The conversation might escalate even when we are using our best skills to prevent it. It is acceptable to call a time out for emotions to subside. When calling a time out, remember to set up a follow up time as the conversation needs to be finish with a resolution.
Understanding Each Other’s Points Of View
The conversion goal is to understand each other’s perspective. Ask questions if you are having difficulty understanding. Remembering that understanding does not mean that you agree with their viewpoint. It just means you can see how they might understand it. When you both feel that you have been understood, its time to find the solution.
Continuing to think of ways that you can contribute to helping the situation, both of you brainstorm different ideas for a solution. Then decide on the best course of action to meet both of your goals.
Get Help When Needed
There are times when the situation is too difficult to be handled without help. Ask another family member or friend to mediate between the two of you to increase mutual understanding. If that is not possible or you find that you are constantly stuck in circular conversations, then seek the help of a professional therapist.
We’re here for you.
Trish Pauls, MA RP
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