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Walking on Eggshells: Navigating Family Tension at Holiday Gatherings

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Everyone has that person in their family with whom they have to walk around on eggshells. Some families have multiple people who are a figurative emotional minefield, or it can change from year to year depending on circumstances. Maybe you are even feeling super-sensitive about a particular topic, be it your work situation, your health, the health of a loved one, relationships, politics, or any other of a host of issues. Or maybe you just can’t seem to agree to disagree with your family members. The holidays can be hard on everyone. The seemingly happiest time of the year can be very stressful and tense for some people.

An article I found on Real Simple magazine’s website, “How to Disagree Agreeably,” gives ideas on how to fight fair and defray conflict. The coping mechanisms could prove helpful to avoid an all-out war at the Christmas dinner table (full link at end of article).

Family is especially difficult when it comes to disagreements and raw nerves. The major cause for friction is that there is a lot of emotion involved with family, regardless of if you are close with them or not. Often you know your family member’s hot buttons, and they know yours. Parents and siblings sometimes can tend to give unsolicited advice, and everyone has known each other for a very long time, so tension could brew over years and years. A lot of times, proper etiquette does not come into play because everyone is brutally honest; it’s a no-holds-barred situation. However, in the interest of being able to enjoy the family’s company, and not harm the children’s emotional development, some ground rules could be called for.

Be Respectful: Especially if you are visiting your family away from your home, you need to respect the rules of the home you are in. You may disagree with a family member about how they are living their life, but instead of attacking them, try to offer your concern. For example, say, “You are important to me, and I’m concerned about you. I want to talk about things that matter.” Instead of asking a loved one what they’re thinking, ask them in a non-threatening way if they’re happy and living life how they want to live it. And if they are, leave at that.

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