5 Ways to Navigate Holiday Conflict

Very few of us like to admit it, but the holidays aren’t always the most wonderful time of the year for everyone. Even so, we are expected to be cheerful and merry. If you don’t find yourself looking forward to the holidays because of the stress and conflict that it brings, you’re not alone. Many people tend to feel additional strain on their relationships around the holidays for a number of reasons, including holiday spending and numerous social and family obligations.

You don’t have to fall victim to the same patterns of conflict and strife you’ve faced in the past. Understanding the causes and how you can better handle the stress can put the merry, jolly, and happy back into your holidays.

Unwrap the reason for the conflict and gift yourself with the tools to deal with it!

If you’ve ever wondered why relationships (whether it’s spouses, siblings, relatives or friends) tend to become particularly strained around the holidays, the answer is simple: the holidays present unique circumstances and expectations that can magnify friction, stress, and conflict. In fact, most people juggle several holiday friction points, which can make it difficult to hold it all together, let alone be jovial.

Common Holiday Conflict Points

Here are some common friction points that tend to surface during the holidays and some tips to mitigate conflict.

1. Holiday Spending

One of the biggest stressors around the holidays is spending. This is no surprise since money is one of the top sources of conflict in relationships. Holidays bring a lot of extra expenses, including gifts, holiday cards, family photos, decorations, extravagant foods for the big family feast, and new clothes for all the holiday parties. As the expenses add up, so does the likelihood of a disagreement on how much money should be spent and on what.

To avoid spending friction, sit down with your spouse, make a list of anticipated expenses, and agree on a budget before beginning your holiday spending. This will ensure you’re both on the same page. Be sure to communicate if an unexpected expense comes up and discuss whether or not you can afford it.

Remember that avoiding dealing with the issue will not make it go away and is more likely to result in greater conflict later. Being able to have an honest conversation with your significant other about the state of your finances, as well as your feelings about your financial habits, is crucial for a healthy relationship.

2. House Guests

In today’s world, spending the holidays with your extended family often requires traveling and staying with relatives or hosting relatives in your home. This creates the potential for multiple friction points. Maybe your in-laws say things that bring up uncomfortable emotions, or maybe the pressure of having a perfectly clean house and being the perfect host leaves you stressed and overwhelmed. What can you do to reduce tension and recapture the joy of the holidays when confronted with reduced privacy and unsolicited input from relatives?

First, set boundaries for the length of time that the guests will stay. This gives you the ability to say to yourself, “It will only be one more hour” or “One more day.” Many people are unsure of how to broach the topic of set departure times, but it can be as simple as stating the start and end time when you first extend the invitation, so guests know when the event is expected to end.

Second, make time for self-care. Just because your in-laws are staying at your house, doesn’t mean you have to devote every waking moment to be with them. For example, if going to the gym is part of your daily routine, stick to it. You can also excuse yourself to go to bed a bit earlier to read, journal, spend time with your significant other, or anything else that will help you decompress.

3. The Pressure of Perfection

So many people feel an immense amount of pressure to plan and orchestrate the perfect holiday celebration. This pressure can quickly turn from cheer to stress and anxiety. Be wary of falling into the comparison trap and examine your motives—how much of what you are doing is simply to impress others and not what really makes you happy?

Set realistic expectations and do not spread yourself too thin. Talk over your plans with your spouse or family member. Together, prioritize what matters most to you and what you think you can realistically manage.

Then . The hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, parties, and house guests can lead you to feel out of control. The more you plan ahead and ask for help when needed, the less stress you will find yourself under. And remember to keep things in perspective. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t find the perfect gift or everything on your list doesn’t get done. Don’t dwell on it; let it go.

Finally, forgive and forget mishaps. At the end of the day, perfection is impossible, so just do your best and remind yourself to not dwell on minor hiccups in the day. 

4. Family Conflict

At times, conflict between family members is inevitable. But knowing how to manage the conflict without losing your temper is critical.

Whether it be opposing political views or a deep-seated family conflict like perceived favoritism, holiday celebrations are not the time nor the place to seek resolution for these issues. If you find a family member is bringing up a topic that is likely to result in tension and arguments:

  • Choose not to engage
  • Walk into another room for a few moments to regain your composure
  • Ask to defer the conversation for another time and suggest a new topic

5. Spousal Resentment

Often one spouse feels like they’re doing all the work to make the holidays a success. If you find yourself feeling like you’re doing all the work, set aside a time to talk with your spouse and ask for help. Do not let your resentment build. Express your feelings honestly without accusatory language. At the Marriage Recovery Center, we often use Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication Model to help couples communicate effectively.

  • (OBSERVATION) When I see you _______ or hear you say _________,
  • (FEELING) I feel________.
  • (NEED) Because I have a need for ______,
  • (REQUEST) in the future, it would help if you would ________.

For example, “When I hear you say that you want to help, but then I don’t see you following through on your promise, I feel confused and anxious, because I have a need for clarity and consistency.  In the future, if you say that you’re willing to help out with a particular task, it would mean a lot to me if you would follow through with your actions.”

On the other hand, if your spouse is the one that takes charge of the holidays, be sure to verbally recognize their efforts and offer assistance, even if they seem to have everything under control. Don’t forget to thank them for all they do to make everything fall into place.

Find the Happy in Happy Holidays This Year

Holidays don’t have to be marked by stress and conflict.  Let us help you identify what’s not working and give you some practical steps you can take to make your holiday a happy one. Contact our Client Care Team and ask about our Mini Intensive. You can also schedule a free consultation with a Client Care Specialist right away.

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