There’s an old Saturday Night Live skit that opens with a Time Life operator offering a video series called Home for the Holidays. The videos are of family holiday dinners for people who can’t make it home so they won’t miss all of the family arguments. The narrator muses, “These tapes contain all of the strained conversations, dysfunctional couplings, and plain old meltdowns that we come to expect during holiday get-togethers.” The skit goes on to show examples of common arguments families have at the holidays.
Although humorous, the sketch outlines the unfortunate reality that for many families the holidays are filled with relational stress and tension. The holidays should be a time of love and celebration. However, there are certain issues that tend to rear their ugly head this time of year. Here are the 5 most common arguments families face during the holidays and how to avoid them.
There’s nothing that brings tension to relationships like money. This is magnified at the holidays where gatherings, presents, decorations, and potential travel can easily add up to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars. If you are like me then money causes you the most stress in your life and that leads quickly to arguments over spending.
Prevent: Sit down with your wife and put together a holiday budget. Talk to family members about limits on gift amounts or Pollyanna gift giving/secret Santa systems. It may be awkward to talk about, but the last thing anyone wants is to start the new year weighed down by credit card debt.
2. Unmet Expectations
Everyone has expectations, particularly around the holidays. The house has to be perfectly decorated, old family traditions need to be honored, a party has to go just right; if you get her the wrong gift she’s going to be disappointed, or your extended family expects you to fit into their plans. Someone inevitably ends up hurt or angry and Christmas cheer plummets.
Prevent: It’s impossible to meet everyone’s expectations so give up trying. The best way to avoid unmet expectations is by being proactive and having the preemptive discussion. Try to get an idea of people’s expectations by asking questions. You may need to help others adjust and approach the holidays with a spirit of flexibility. Statements like, “I’m not sure we are going to be able to do that this year even though I really want to,” can go a long way towards preparing people in advance. Try to have as many of these conversations as possible, especially if the one with the expectations is your wife.
3. The Martyr
This is normally born out of expectations. One person expects the holidays to look a certain way and does a ton of work to make it a perfect picture. Somehow this person has an expectation that everyone else knows and buys into their vision and is willing to help. Sooner or later they explode, pointing out all of the things they have done while no one appreciates it or offers to help.
Prevent: Once you’ve identified this person the fix is easy. First, thank them for all they do. Express your appreciation and how much better they have made the holidays for everyone. Then ask them if you could offer some help. Do this early and often. Most of the time they are looking for just a little affirmation.
4. Wounded PastReconciliation is the central theme of Christmas so it is as good a time as any to seek forgiveness and resolve old issues.
Old wounds have a way of rearing their ugly head during family get-togethers. Simple joking or innocent conversation can touch a nerve, hit on insecurities, or awaken bitterness. Suddenly the person snaps filling the room with contentious tension.
Prevent: Don’t dismiss their feelings, work to understand them. If you were involved in someone being hurt do what you can to make the relationship right early, before the holidays if you can. Reconciliation is the central theme of Christmas so it is as good a time as any to seek forgiveness and resolve old issues. Be humble and apologize right away. If you are the offended person, be quick to offer forgiveness.
5. Competing Traditions
When you get married each person brings in the traditions they grew up with. These traditions are deeply ingrained and can even become sacred in themselves. When blending two worlds it can be hard to let things go, especially when each group of in-laws has expectations of their traditions being honored and continued. That type of pressure is bound to bring a blowup.
Prevent: A married couple needs to come together to create a new holiday story that fits their immediate family. Get together with your wife and create your own traditions. Incorporate those traditions from childhood that are most important to each person. But it’s a lot easier when each person lets go of their past traditions and embraces new ones.