How to Avoid Family Conflict These Holidays
Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays probably mean get togethers with your family of origin (or potentially even more loaded: with those of your spouse!) While there are many comforts and joy in spending time with your extended family, for some it can mean you have to interact with people who control, frustrate, criticize, or burden you.
There are so many other stresses you are likely facing this year so use the following tips to make your family interactions go smoothly so you can take ‘family conflict’ off your list.
1) Be impeccable for your 50%
You will be very tempted to focus on how other people are doing things wrong and how frustrated you are at how they are doing things. As long as you focus on what they are doing, you will continue to feel stressed by your lack of control.
Here’s your new mantra: Be impeccable for your 50%. This means, focus on your part of the interaction. Articulate the qualities and attributes of who you want to be as a person and family member and put your time, energy, and attention into making sure you are acting like that person (no matter what others are doing). I’m not advising this to give others with bad behavior a free pass – rather I say it because it empowers you to control the most that you can control in the situation and gives you a leg up on influencing others to get what you want.
Here are some tips:
- Review your communication to make sure it is clear and respectful, this will give you a better chance of influencing others.
- Think through to know exactly what you want from the situation so you can ask for it.
- Take the time to see it from their point of view so you can empathize with what they are feeling, make them feel understood, and phrase your requests to them in terms that motivate them.
- Clean up your own backyard and make sure that you can’t be accused of the ‘pot calling the kettle black’ (nor of repeating your patterns). This way you have more credibility and power when requesting others to act differently.
- Focus effectively on nurturing yourself and initiating meaningful connections that will bring fulfillment in your current life.
As you are impeccable for your 50%, you will break the interaction pattern. It will give you the best leverage to prompt the other person to change favorably. If they are not capable of responding to the new opportunity between you, then at least you will have the prize of being who YOU want to be (and all the dignity that goes along with it!)
2) Don’t live in hope
We all wish our difficult family member could just “get it” and behave differently in their own life and towards you. You are angry with them because you are hoping and expecting that they will be more evolved than they are at this point. You are hoping that one of these times they will give you the validation you richly deserve but they are likely not capable of. You are ‘living in hope’. As long as you are hoping and expecting they will be different, you will continue to act in your same patterns.
As soon as you accept that they are “where they are on their journey” (and so are you), you can focus on your 50% and not try to change them. Remember, even though its painful for you to standby and watch someone you care about not be happy, you must appreciate part of you wants them to act differently in order for you to feel at ease or comfortable with yourself and your situation.
If your spouse reverts to someone you don’t recognize when they’re with their family, it’s not an opportunity for criticism. Rather, appreciate that there is still a part of them that is stuck believing it’s the only way they will be loved by the people they’re hoping will give them ‘emotional oxygen’. What you can do is ‘kill them with kindness’ to let them know that they now have new ways of being loved by you.
Good hope is when you take action to further the ideals of your life; bad hope is when you passively hope that someone else will change so you can continue the path of least resistance in your same patterns. Instead of focusing on the unrealized harmony within your family, be grateful for the family members who are alive and in a state of reasonable health; be grateful for all the ways that you and your family members have been resilient to the current challenging times. Be a heat-seeking missile for creating connections in your current life that will help you feel fulfilled. If you are going to ‘live in hope’, Live in good hope and not in bad hope!
3) Take charge of your own chill
You may notice yourself starting to get “hot under the collar” in a difficult family interaction. You will be tempted to react by blaming the other person, replying with irritation, or telling them to ‘calm down’. Instead of overreacting, try this breathing technique — called Reverse Breathing:
Breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose. Open your mouth slightly, so that when you breathe in you feel a cooling sensation over the top of your tongue (that means you are doing it right, you are detoxifying your liver where frustration and anger accumulate). This technique creates such an energy shift that it will not only calm you down, but it will calm down the people around you who are causing your tension (I have used this technique to stop squabbles in my family’s kitchen as well as to stop fights on the NYC subway! Go check it out for yourself…)
For a free excerpt of the Friction Free Relationship program on how not to react in situations, go to www.sharonmelnick.com