Negotiating the Holidays

Holiday Card 2015 websiteAs the holiday season approached, Sally was filled with dread.  Every year her parents, with whom her husband Mark did not get along, invited them to a New Year’s party in their home.  And every year Mark and Sally had the same excuse not to go – Mark worked as a medical resident and had to be in the hospital.  This year, however, Mark finally finished his residency, and that excuse no longer applied.  She dreaded the fight she was going to have with Mark over where to spend New Year’s Eve.

Negotiating over time spent with family can be excruciating.  Trying to meet everyone’s needs during the year is hard enough, but when it comes to family and holidays, emotions run deep and tempers can flare.  Here are a few tips for minimizing the pain and maximizing the chance of a mutually agreed upon outcome:

      • Begin with empathy. Showing you understand and accept the other person’s feelings and concerns is a wonderful way to start things off right. When people feel understood, they are much more open-minded.  When people feel misunderstood or rejected, they typically shut down or counterattack.  For example, Sally could begin by saying, “I know how much you hate my parents’ parties, and that it is a sacrifice for you to spend the holiday with them.  I appreciate your willingness to look for some creative options that we can both live with.”
      • Clarify what’s really important. While we’d all like to have everything our way, it is useful to prioritize and separate what matters most from what is less crucial. When conflict erupts it can be tempting to declare that everything is crucial.  Sally might say, “While I think it would be nice to go to my parents’ New Year’s party, I think the most important thing is to at least spend some time with them during the holidays.  I don’t want to hurt their feelings by completely ignoring them.”
      • Get Creative. When conflict erupts, it’s easy to fall into an all-or-nothing mindset.  “Either we go to the party or we don’t.”  Other options are out there, and the challenge is to work together to find them.  Sally could say, “One idea would be to make an appearance at my parents’ party for a short while, and then move on.  Or we could say we have plans for New Year’s Eve, but would be happy to stop by on New Year’s Day.”

The key is to remain connected to the ones we love even when, or especially when, we disagree.  Conflict, while inevitable in relationships, need not be destructive.  It can be a golden opportunity to understand each other better and even allow both sides to deepen their relationship.

Happy Holidays, and wishing all a wonderful 2015!