Christmas conjures up images of food and decorations, presents, of course, and fun and festive times with friends and family. While the holiday season can provide many occasions to bond with relatives, it can also emphasise family relationships which are experiencing tension. This can impact on other family members and create a stressful environment. Regardless of good intentions and any effort to overlook or disregard old rivalries, strained relationships or recent arguments, this can prove exceptionally challenging. Being prepared for this time of year and the possible difficulties that may arise will go a long way towards helping the holiday season to be more enjoyable and less stressful than it might otherwise be. Below are some ideas for how you might better prepare yourself.

Acknowledge that there is a chance that issues may arise and have a plan for how to deal with conflict:

  • Communicate in a positive manner. The language and tone that you utilise when conversing with your family   members can either assist or hinder communication. Communication that contains sarcasm or insults is disrespectful and is not conducive to reducing conflict. Clear, concise, open communication can limit confusion and misunderstandings.

  • Although easier said than done, try to be objective and void of emotion when negotiating with others. Strong emotions or power imbalances are commonly experienced during family conflict, as we are more closely invested in these relationships. However, in order to be able to communicate and reason effectively, it is important that emotions do not cloud your judgement with anger or resentment. This will enable you to listen and not just react.

  • Respect each other’s point of view. Everyone is entitled to their own feelings, beliefs and opinions.  Agree to disagree when the issue cannot be resolved or when no common ground is established. Remember, others are not required to always agree with you on everything.

  • Negotiate and compromise. Paying attention, actively listening and trying to understand the other person’s point of view can greatly facilitate negotiation and assist in a resolution to the pressing issue. Remember the objective is to ‘resolve the conflict, not win the argument’.

  • Devise as many solutions to the problem as possible. This will assist both parties to settle on a solution that is acceptable and comfortable for those involved. Once the solution is determined – stick to it!

For those who are newly separated or divorced, this time of year can be especially difficult as so much would have changed. Even with these fundamental changes there are things you can do to make Christmas time a little easier. It is worth preparing yourself, planning and organising what you need to, well in advance, to keep tensions at a manageable level. This may include having conversations with key people, for example, your ex, sooner rather than later, to allow time to negotiate. Here are some ideas to help:

  • Plan. Where will you be? Who will you be with? What will you do? What will you think about? What will you not let yourself think about? These last two questions are critically important. When you do plan ahead and follow your plan, you will be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

  • Spend time with understanding, compassionate people. If possible. Not everyone will understand or be able to empathise with what you are going through and that’s okay. Sometimes it is important just to be around other people. They can help to take your mind off the differences in your situation. Get busy cooking for others or going to the movies or doing anything that will require your attention with other people involved.

  • Begin new traditions. Everything in your life is changing right now, including your holiday traditions. What can you do this year that is new and different and fun? What can you do that will keep your mind occupied and that you can enjoy with your children? What ideas do you have that will help you get through this day in a way that you can feel good about when it’s done?

  • View Christmas through your children’s eyes. This can help you to focus on the kids and to help you make decisions based around what is in their best interests. Even if you won’t be seeing your children on Christmas day make a time to contact them during the day via Skype if possible. This goes a long way in helping you all feel a part of each other’s day. Make another day your Christmas day to spend together.  It can be a lot of fun and very special for the kids to know they get two Christmas days, each filled with its own traditions.

Enjoying the season is more likely if you lower your expectations, spend more time to prepare, and “go with the flow.” Be aware that conflict happens from time to time and if you are prepared and have a plan it will make those times less difficult to handle and give you an opportunity to be empowered with the knowledge of how to deal with them.