A Holiday Field Guide for Navigating Difficult Relationships

The holiday season is upon us, and with the influx of Hallmark movies and Christmas flyers, comes the opportunity for anxiety related to upcoming family gatherings. Very often, the thought of reuniting with those that we love for holiday celebrations is exciting but also offers concern. How will those who don’t have the ability to see one another often manage being together for large spans of time. Will there be stress? Conflict? Arguments?

Healthy communication is key in helping these situations go as smoothly as possible. When everyone knows what to expect there is less room for disappointment related to unmet expectations or misunderstandings in the moment. Utilizing healthy communication strategies can help ensure everyone’s holiday is as enjoyable and festive as possible.

Here are some steps for managing difficult relationships during the holidays.

Lead with what you need without feeling guilty about it. We all have needs. Because things change over time, needs change as well. What you needed when your children were infants, isn’t what you, or they, need now that they are toddlers or teens. When we let others know what we need, we give them the opportunity to love us well by respecting and trying to meet our needs. When we see that others are recognizing and attempting to meet our needs, it helps us to have patience with them even when they can’t do it perfectly.

Remaining positive in our communication can facilitate a healthier exchange between us and those we are communicating with.

Example: Mom, I absolutely love that you bake such amazing treats every year when we come. You help all of us feel so loved and special with the hard work you put into everything. This year though, I really need the kids to be limited on how much sugar they eat. I need you to have them ask my permission before they eat sweets. Kaylee reacts poorly to too much sugar and because of that, I have had to limit it for everyone. Thank you so much for understanding.

Communicate expectations and boundaries. We love our family. We like our family. We tolerate our family. With such a variety of personalities, political and religious views, and life choices however, group conversation can sometimes go in a direction that is not beneficial or pleasant for all parties involved. Not everyone is familiar with what is appropriate.

We do not have the ability to control what others do or say. We, however, do have the ability to control what we and our loved ones sit and listen to. Communicating ahead of time helps others know what to expect from us and the less room there is for surprises, the less room there is for offense.

Example: Dad, I know that you and Uncle John love to discuss political issues when you are together. I love that you love your time together. This year though, the kids are older and can understand more of what you are talking about. Some of the topics that you discuss really aren’t appropriate for their little ears and minds. I hope that the conversation can stay kid appropriate during dinner, but I just need you to know that if at any point I feel that it gets to be too much for them, we will excuse ourselves from the table and I will distract them until the conversation becomes more kid-friendly. Thanks so much for understanding.

Remember that everyone is doing their best. We can get frustrated with others when what seems like common sense to us doesn’t seem to cross their mind. If we can remember that most people really are doing their best and don’t intend to offend, we can more readily offer grace and patience.

Healthy communication helps everyone get on the same page and understand where others are coming from.

Create the space you need. Remember that it is always okay to take a break. This can look like going on a walk, taking a nap, taking care of kitchen clean-up or separating to spend time playing a game with the kids. It is always better to take a personal time-out when you need it than to allow yourself to be pushed beyond your limits mentally and emotionally.

Introverts particularly can get tremendously tired when forced to interact in a large group setting. Taking time to take a breath and recharge is good self-care. Remembering that it is not just everyone else’s holiday, but yours as well, can help you feel comfortable to take the steps you need to manage the gathering as well as possible.

Keeping a pulse on what is going on within you, physically, emotionally and mentally will help to clue you in on when you might need to take a step back.

Utilizing these strategies can help you and your loved ones enjoy the holidays more even with those that you love but can be difficult to spend time with for longer spans of time.

A Graduate from Liberty University, Tanya Glanzman, LPC is passionate about helping others live the life of freedom, joy and peace Christ died for them to have. She has experience offering individual, marital, family and group counseling. She works with a variety of populations and issues, specializing in women’s trauma recovery. As a survivor of traumatic childhood abuse, her heart is that every woman would know God as the Healer, Redeemer and Restorer He desires to be for them. She speaks and writes as My Father’s Daughter, offering hope and encouragement wrapped in grace filled truth, with the mission that every woman would know what it truly means to be a Daughter of the King. She is looking forward to publishing her first book on identity as a Daughter of God. 


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