Updated: Nov 16
Throughout the year people are able to control their frustrations, resentments and negative opinions from other family members due to multiple factors.
Distance is usually a good way to avoid these kinds of bad feelings and conflicts, however it’s often at Christmas and New Year's when these tensions can resurface. An unpleasant comment (which you knew would happen sooner or later) or a controversial opinion are enough to take the peace out of family gatherings.
Politics, COVID, religion or childhood differences for example, are always controversial subjects that inevitably make their way into topics of conversation at some point over the holidays. Generally everyone wants to give their opinion, but doesn't want to hear others.
Discussing complex issues can be interesting, however, it is not enough to do it with the intention of “defeating” the point of view of others, or in many cases there is something unclear between two people or families that are boiling underneath. Often we don’t talk about it and it can come up during family gatherings in a very abrupt way, creating many issues, arguments and a breakdown within families or friendships.
Couples can also fight over issues left unaddressed during the year. When the relationship is saturated, it is common for spouses to wash their dirty laundry in public or through confidences with relatives and the like. Thus, some family members can take sides during the holiday season and create a negative dynamic or environment.
Excessive use of cell phones, lack of patience, emotional issues ignored throughout the year, recent divorce, excessive drinking, unequal tastes… There are many opportunities for conflicts to arise.
The same is true for those who are going to spend Christmas or New Year with friends. Drinking to excess, discussing controversial issues, and fighting over past events or romantic interests can spoil the holidays.
So how can we avoid conflicts with family and friends over the holidays?
Christmas and New Years celebrations would ideally be marked by moments of joy, funny stories and thanks, even when bad things hit us.
Achieving this scenario in reality is far from simple and actually, you don't have to strive for perfection. Craving good times with your loved ones is enough. The tips below will help you reach that goal for many years to come!
1. Take care of family issues in advance.
Do you hold grievances?
Sometimes we put annoying problems aside to focus on more enjoyable things. The downside of not expressing our discomfort with a situation or attitude of others is that the discomfort does not go away.
All families, couples and groups of friends are imperfect. It is normal for some strangeness to happen from time to time. However, the omission of your true feelings can contribute to small conflicts becoming big and, above all, commonplace and easily can get out of control.
So whenever an unpleasant event bothers you, talk to the person involved in the matter. Use non-violent communication techniques and be gentle, avoiding making accusations or blaming others.
Don't let resentments pile up inside you, as they can encourage depression, anxiety, panic attacks and arguments.
2. Avoid controversial discussions.
Controversial issues must be shelved.
It is possible to touch on themes like football or religion in other environments, when people are really prepared for it. A light conversation about controversies requires a lot of data gathering, patience and empathy. During the holiday season, most people want to have fun and are generally not in the mood after a very hard working year.
So don't get into discussions that won't enrich the environment or your knowledge. If the person you're talking to isn't interested in hearing your opinion and speaking in a subdued tone, change the subject to keep order at the party.
3. Do not dump the load on a single person.
Preparing a house to host a Christmas or New Year's meeting is a lot of work. It is necessary to think about decoration, supper, entertainment (music, for example) and cleaning up after the get-together. Letting a few people do all the work is not cool and it still creates opportunities for complaints from the overburdened family.
The solution is to share everything! One group can be in charge of the food while another will take care of the decoration.
It's nice to let people choose the selection of music, movies or TV shows for the evening.
If someone has a different interest, an agreement can be reached. However, the tastes and traditions of the family that will host the party must be respected.
Finally, a group is responsible for cleaning.
That way, no one will be overwhelmed and it will be possible for everyone to enjoy pleasant moments throughout the night.
4. Determine a budget.
Will you have a secret friend? Will there be an exchange of gifts? How much will the budget be for this? And the price of a barbecue or supper? So that everyone can participate without any problems, set a limit on values for each activity planned.
Some people may be struggling and feel embarrassed about not being able to contribute much, so setting a budget is a way to reassure them that they don't have to worry.
You can even set a symbolic value for the Christmas gifts, if necessary, or combine a different way to present family and friends. Making homemade gifts, such as videos or using a personal talent, can be an alternative to including those who cannot afford to spend a lot.
5. Lead the way!
If you're expecting to have a dull time because some relatives are inconvenient, focus that energy elsewhere.
People often sulk when they know they will have to go through a tedious or unpleasant time. They tend to think about it a lot, hoping to find that unpleasant relative and go through the “torture” of questions from uncles and aunts. Instead of whining too soon, decide to ward off pessimism with good humour and proactivity.
For example, get into the Christmas spirit and help anyone in need during the party. Serve the guests, collect the disposable cups and small trash, set the table, offer to make a dessert, entertain the kids, or talk to sullen teenagers to settle them down, bearing in mind that taking some time for yourself is essential, reflecting on how was your year, what have you done to change things in your life that doesn’t make you happy, what can you do different in the next year. We often pretend that everything is ok as showing our vulnerability makes us feel ashamed, weak or uncomfortable. For some of us the sadness and distress is there anyway. Try not to talk about it all the time with your family or friends, but also take the time to acknowledge it and identify what is making you unhappy.
You will feel more useful that way and encourage others to help too!
6. Learn to let things go, but not before you clarify it with the person in question.
When we buy groundless fights (other than self-defence), we increase our stress load unnecessarily. In other words, not every fight is worth buying.
If your pride forces you into irrelevant conflicts, review your need to be right or to "win" an argument. When it's time for everyone to go home, will that moment really matter? Possibly not.
Even if you hear something that makes you angry or sad, either let it go, or try to talk about it in a calm way. You can try to understand the mindset of the speaker, but it will hardly change your opinion or way of thinking. Sometimes opting for silence is the best thing to do for your mental health.
7. Give thanks for the good times.
We have been through a lot in the last two years, causing a lot of stress, anxiety and uncertainty, but we might also want a lot of fun, time to reset and start new things and share a lot of good experiences with your loved ones.
Appreciate what you already have, and if you want a different scenario for the coming year, make plans to archive it and spend more time with your family, friends, or spouse. Saying thanks will distract you from family quarrels, as well as improve your mood and create a positive atmosphere/dynamic around you.
8. Remember that the holidays can be tough.
While the holidays are fun for many, they can be stressful for some. Christmas and New Year are times when expectations are often excessive. Reflection is useful for our growth, but it can bring discomfort to the surface when excessive.
For anyone who has lost a loved one, ended a relationship, experienced a financial crisis, or been fired, this period of pondering is not very pleasant. In addition, many people suffer silently from depression and anxiety. Therefore, they find it difficult to feel happy in the midst of the festivities.
The inconvenient relative may be having problems that are difficult to resolve. Therefore, be understanding with others. If you're feeling really stressed or sad, don't hesitate to ask for help.
We hope this article will help you enjoy and peacefully navigate the holidays with friends and family.
Please feel free to get in touch with us if you would like to discuss any of these tips or methods in more detail.
Article Written By Claudete Tomaselli - an Integrative Body Psychotherapist with 15 years of experience with trauma, abuse, suicide, depression and more.
Claudete is also fluent in English, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.