How To Manage Family Conflicts

Throughout most of the year it is easy to avoid family conflict, meddling relatives, or a sister who brings up the same old grudges. But, when it comes time for family get-togethers like birthdays, Thanksgiving or the end of the year holidays family conflicts can leave you choking on your food.

Dr. Rosalind Dorlen, a specialist in clinical psychology in Summit, N.J. says that, “We all want our relatives to behave during the holidays, but if your mother has never liked the way you do your hair or if your brother always tells the same sad jokes, they are not going to change just because of a special occasion. A lot of the stress we experience in these occasions is because of our expectations being set too high.”

Instead of getting all upset about your family failing to meet your expectations keep a sense of humor and don’t try to shut your brother or mother up with a nasty comment. Be friendly. Kindness dissipates tension. Your family can make all of the barbed comments they want. You don’t have to answer.

Here are a few of the problems we face and a few tips for dealing with annoying relatives and avoiding family conflict.

1. Meddling: So, when am I going to be a grandmother?

Irrepressible Response: We are thinking about that and when we have any news you will be the first to know.

Why This Works: You put the person, your mother or mother-in-law, in her place without making her feel bad. Ignoring the question only invites another question. Be strong and direct and the questioner will likely leave the matter alone.

2. Spitefulness: You had better not think that I have forgotten the time that –

Irrepressible Response: You know, I have not thought about that for years. I just hope that you can overcome it too.

Why This Works: Some people simply live in the past. They feel powerful by assuming the role of a victim. Their anger makes them feel stronger. If you stoop to their level you will be fighting on their turf. Don’t give them the satisfaction of discussing old grievances. Define the issue as something to forget and not something to bring up again and again.

3. Labelers: Look who finally arrived. We were all wondering just how late you would be this time.

Irrepressible Response: You are right. I always seem to be the last to arrive. How nice it is to see you.

Why This Works: It is hard to get rid of old labels. When we meet as families there is a tendency to assume the roles we assumed when we were young. Instead of seeing each other as responsible adults we see each other as we were growing up. Taking on a defensive posture to being called to baby of the family is useless. Grin and bear it.

4. Mine Is Better Than Yours: So your boy got an A in biology. Mine got first prize in the state science fair!

Irrepressible Response: That must really make you happy!

Why This Works: Some people just live to compete. If you fall into their trap you will be stuck in an eternal game of “everything you can do I can do better.” Don’t view the person who does this as an adversary but the insecure person that they really are. Remember that the good things of your life stand on their own merits and have nothings to do with comparisons.

5. Talking Politics: How in the heck could you vote for that idiot?

Irrepressible Response: Even congress cannot agree on everything. Let’s take politics off the table for today.

Why This Works: It can be hard to get a political fanatic to shut up. But, by refusing to partake in the discussion you may be successful in moderating the political lecture that you are about to receive.

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