Wishes and encouragement for Peace at the holidays can sometimes cause emotional distress rather than dispel it. So often we feel stress and pressure at the holidays over all that needs to be done and our hopes for fulfilling expectations for ourselves and others. On top of this many people have strained relationships with the family members they are obligated to spend time with over the holiday season. Conflict during the holidays seems inevitable and at the same time seems “anti-holiday” so we fear and resist it, often causing ourselves more stress and discomfort through our best intentions of keeping the peace.
The first part of the problem here is the far reaching myth that conflict is bad. Most people view conflict as negative, hurtful, stressful and ugly. Conflict, however, is in fact inherently positive; it is the way we communicate to each other that something is bothering us, that a need is not being met and that we want to resolve the issue.
The second part of the problem is that few people have ever learned skills in approaching conflict in a healthy way; people rarely “fight fair.” When you do not fight fair, the fight does indeed turn ugly and is ineffective at resolving the issue. On the other hand, in healthy and effective confrontation, both people are able to express their concerns and come to an understanding of what each needs from the other.
These days it is uncommon to find a family that has used conflict effectively with each other, so there is a lot of unresolved hurt and anger among them. Those feelings and bad habits come to the surface at the holidays and either everyone walks on eggshells attempting to ignore the tension or else someone blows up. No matter how much you may wish you could avoid it, conflict will occur when you put together such a mix of personalities, opinions, unresolved hurts and simmering tension. But it doesn’t have to ruin your holidays any longer.
Understanding first that conflict is natural and purposeful can take away some of the fear and dread normally associated with it. We are all different people with different ( i.e. conflicting) ideas, feelings and ways of thinking. We all have needs that must be met and though those needs are fundamentally the same, the urgency. frequency and ways of getting them met change all the time depending on what else is happening in our lives. When those differences interrupt our happiness, we need to communicate them to one another to resolve the unmet need. If you can shift your concept of conflict to this more positive, opportunistic thinking, it will relieve a lot of the fear and dread you feel.
Once you change your thinking on the purpose of conflict, you can be more open to changing the way the actual conflicts feel. When conflict occurs, listen for the search for connection underneath the confrontational words of the person you are dealing with. Remember that he or she is trying to get a need met. If you can figure out what that need is, you may find it simple to help him feel fulfilled and the conflict can end quickly.
Being more able to allow conflict to occur, knowing its purpose, will enable you to start changing the conflicts you actually are a part of. Sometimes the true intent of the conflict, the unmet need that is driving it, can be difficult to figure out. Remember, we are all different, and can’t read each others minds. But that doesn’t mean the conflict can’t be resolved. There are very effective ways to engage in conflict that can help you and the other person to come to a resolution and even help him to change the way he approaches conflict as well. Think of it always as communication, not fighting.
How do you handle positive or “safe” communication? You probably use:
Reflective and active listening.
Questions: You Ask when you don’t understand or want to know more.
Acceptance: You take the conversation for what it is rather than as a reflection of your worth.
Eye contact and open body language.
Are you able to use those same techniques and skills towards conflict? Absolutely, with some practice.
Of course conflict, with its common bad habits, perception of negativity, and heightened emotions can be a challenge to change and become comfortable with. It is important to learn more about the nature of conflict, develop the skills it requires to be effective, healthy and safe, and to practice with patience until you get it right. It also can be frustrating because even when you are using your skills, the other person involved may still be uncomfortable with conflict, so you need to stay calm and help them through it rather than reverting to your old fighting style.
Keep in mind that the holidays bring on a lot of emotions and thoughts that lie dormant within us all for most of the year – childhood hopes and disappointments, expectations for the celebration or the coming year, sorrow over loss or change that may have occurred, etc. Conflict during the holidays can reflect all of these things that are difficult enough for the person expressing the need to sort out, let alone the person being confronted. So learning to listen and accept is both more challenging and more important.
It will be an incredible gift to yourself and your loved ones this year to learn more about conflict and begin changing the way you fight for what you need and how you fulfill the needs of those you care about. Invest in your relationships and your emotional health this year by reading, learning new techniques and getting support with Conflict and Fair Fighting.