A Guide to Holiday Conflict

Holidays with the Family

With Thanksgiving less than a week away we begin to see irrefutable proof that the holiday season will soon be upon us.  How do I know?  Well, I could tell you it’s when the weather turns cooler or when the grocery store starts carrying turkeys.

In all honesty, I know when the holidays are on their way when my first client of the season walks in the door with tales of arguments, fights, miscommunication, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and sometimes even a story or two about someone spending the night on the couch.

Who needs the Ugly Christmas Sweater to indicate the holidays are coming when you’ve got THAT to gauge the season?

The holidays are about family and friends and spending time bonding together.  It’s a time of gratitude and celebration.  Maybe you haven’t seen your family in several weeks or even months.  Maybe it’s even been years!  Holidays are a time of reconnection, love, laughter, and sometimes even pranking each other.  What, it’s a sign of love, too?!

Holidays and Conflict

Sometimes, though, getting everyone under one roof can cause a bit of friction.  Now, not everyone has holiday conflict in the form of screaming matches.  Some have simple miscommunications, different opinions on the football game, and prefer cranberry sauce instead of gravy on their turkey.

When we all get together, under one roof, there is bound to be conflict.  After all, what is conflict?  It’s a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests, or concerns.  So when you tell someone that they can’t have cranberry sauce, man, you’re really dissing their needs for sure.  Seriously, though, people really want to know they matter, that their needs are heard.

What happens when you get a bunch of people together and they’re not getting their needs met, or they aren’t feeling heard, or their interests aren’t shared by the whole?  Well, a couple of things can happen.

Reactions to Conflict

Everyone responds and reacts differently to drama and trauma and conflict.  Some people handle it well and others want to run for the hills.  How you handle conflict relates back to your childhood and how you saw conflict being handled.

Typically, there are three kinds of reactions to conflict:

  • Emotional: anger, fear, despair, confusion
  • Cognitive: thoughts about the situation or the other person “What a jerk”
  • Physical: heightened stress, bodily tension, increased perspiration, tunnel vision, shallow or accelerated breathing, nausea, and rapid heartbeat.

What does conflict look like at your family holiday gatherings?  Is there a lot of yelling with hand gestures or maybe quiet sulking?

Regardless of what your conflict looks like rest assured there is a positive way to handle it with grace.

How to Handle Conflict

Some challenges are holiday specific and others are simply run of the mill conflict that you might run in to any old day of the week.  Let’s tackle holiday specific first…..

One of the key things I see my couples, especially new couples, argue over is who’s family holiday should they attend?  If you go to theirs then you offend your family and if they go to yours then their family is offended.  You can handle this in a couple of ways.

First, sit down with your partner and create a strategic plan first and in advance.  My boyfriend and I discussed family holiday plans in June so we would already know when the time came.  We created a plan where each of us is happy and the families are, too. No harm, no foul, and certainly no conflict.

Another solution is to host your own!  If you are a new couple consider creating an open house arrangement for the holiday of your choice and invite each side of the family to your place.  This is neutral territory for the whole family.  And people are a little more likely to behave in neutral territory.

Now, sometimes there is going to be friction regardless of the decisions and plans you make.  Keep in mind you can’t make everyone happy all of the time.   The key, though, is to remain loyal to your mate.  When you committed to each other you created a new family unit.  Have each other’s backs.

Another holiday specific conflict I hear an awful lot about is dealing with family members.  Everyone has a crazy aunt, a drunk uncle, and a rude step sibling.  No one family is without its unique individuals.  How you deal with them, though, can make or break your holiday.  It’s all about boundaries.  What you allow is what will continue.  So when great uncle so and so says something a little mean after his fourth egg nog, shut him down kindly but firmly.  If you need help setting boundaries you can read more about that here.

Do you have holiday specific drama or conflict in your family?

Generalized conflict, the kind that can happen every day, can happen on holidays, too.  More so especially because you now have so many personalities under one roof that may not interact well together.

So, just a few things to consider…

Boundaries, as we already talked about, will be key.  Identify early on what you won’t tolerate.  Do you dislike drinking?  Do you dislike being made fun of?

Be sensitive to everyone around you.  Holidays are super stressful.  Especially to those who are hosting the event.

Actively listen to those around you.  Sometimes that’s all you need, to feel heard.

And last but not least, consider agreeing to disagree.  Sometimes the best way to deal with conflict you’ve tried to resolve is to try and compromise and preserving the relationship.

Holidays can be stressful enough without the added conflict of how we react or respond.  Remember to set your boundaries and be kind to one another.  Compassion is as important as creating a positive and fun environment.

Need help handling holiday conflict? Set up a coaching session here.

Let me know how you’re doing on the Accelerated JoyWorks Facebook page or in the comments below.

Leave me a comment below if you have any thoughts or questions.  You can also let me know if you have a subject you would like me to address in the next article.  Feel free to share this article with your friends and family or anyone whom you think might benefit.


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One thought on “A Guide to Holiday Conflict

  1. I love the idea of discussing plans so much earlier than the holiday season! Thankfully my husband and I have our families eat at two different times for thanksgiving but for other people I know they need to take turns where to have the holiday. Great advice!

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