Christmas is meant to be the season of goodwill, but for many of us being cooped up with a houseful of assorted relatives, friends, in-laws as well as our closest loved ones it can be a recipe for disaster. The reality is often a less than harmonious situation. How serious a disagreement becomes can depend on how we choose to respond and deal with it.
Here are some tips to help manage those times when disharmony and disagreement occur:
- Clarify the main issues as you see them. What are the key points that are causing you to be annoyed, upset and unhappy with each other? Once you have identified the issues be sure to stay on track as you discuss them. Avoid allowing an assortment of accusatory examples and explanations to distract you. It can be all too easy to lose direction and get bogged down with other, perhaps unrelated, arguments. Once that happens the discussion can dissolve into chaos with nothing ultimately being resolved.
- Determine what your desired outcome is. What would make a real difference to the way you're feeling; what do you need that you're not getting right now? For some people it might be more appreciation, respect, honesty, for others it might be practical help, time together, support, evidence of the other person's commitment to the relationship. Identify what it is that you want or need before discussions commence. Then you can stay focussed on a satisfactory result.
- Listen, really listen to the other person's point of view. You're already fully aware of your grievances, clear about your stance on the matter, on why you're so hurt, annoyed, offended. Further communication needs to be about clarifying and understanding the other person's take on what has caused the problems. Demonstrate active listening by being attentive, by reflecting back what's being said, maybe asking questions in a positive, respectful way, all to encourage and extract important information about the other person's feelings, viewpoint and perspective.
- Acknowledge your part in what's happened to cause the disagreement. There's nothing more frustrating in a row, argument or conflict situation than one person feeling vilified whilst the other is cast in the role of martyr, saint or victim. One person may appear more wronged than wronging, but it is unusual for one person to be totally to blame for a disagreement. Taking responsibility for your part demonstrates a desire to see things from the other person's side, a desire to put things right by perhaps apologising and a readiness to move on from the situation.
- Agree to meet halfway. Being prepared to compromise allows the other person to feel respected, validated and important in the relationship. Some people may want to write down any agreed outcomes; they may choose to schedule further discussions to assess how well they're doing as time progresses and perhaps find ways to move the relationship into an even better place. Others may shake hands and feel satisfied that the situation has reached a good enough rapprochement for the time being.
In a disagreement situation some people may find that they can work through their issues together. They may have opportunities to set aside time when they will remain undisturbed and able to establish a positive environment, conducive to addressing their respective issues and concerns. For others, it might be more appropriate to book sessions with a neutral third-party, like a counsellor or mediator. That way their sessions are given priority and are pre-booked with an independent professional who supports the process for both parties.
Over the festive period it can be especially important to make allowances for the extra levels of excitement and stress that are being experienced. Hosts want everything to be perfect, but may have over-reached themselves financially or over-committed themselves with their plans. Guests may feel unsure about their role, not know what is expected of them. Children and different views on discipline may cause additional stress. Try to relax, accept that things don't have to be perfect and aim to let minor irritations go. Enjoy your time together as a family and endeavour to share a pleasant time.