It’s often at this time of year when the warm weather breaks us out of our hibernation, that we find ourselves spending more time with family and friends for celebrations of various kinds. Occasions like religious events, New Year’s celebrations, Chinese New Year; not to mention all the other festive activities happening.
These are also the times when we may feel obliged to spend time with some of our… ahem… not-so-favourite people. Where you know it’s not going to be such pleasant company; posing some challenging moments.
This year, could be different.
Today we’re going to provide you with a bit of insight of what causes difficult relationships, and then some tips on what you can do.
What makes gatherings (with family and others) difficult?
1. Differences
As we grow up, we shape ourselves into individuals: finding our own values and interests where we then go and choose to spend our time with people who have similar values and interests. However, with families (and this is not always the case) our values and interests can shift away from theirs; leaving strong differences.
During the festive time we may be, for some reason or another, forced to spend time with family (or others) who have intensely different values to yours. This can be excruciatingly painful, making it difficult to hold your poise, or your tongue.

2. Long term entrenched and unresolved issues can rear their heads; or be the looming elephant-in-the-room. Let’s face it, in the 3 hour visit you have with your family, the long-term issues won’t get resolved in that short time. But at the same time, it can be difficult to contain those angry remarks when that long-term red-hot issue is sitting there, just beneath the surface.

3. Blaming another person or expecting them to change:
Holding on to our expectation that “they will change” or “that it will be different this time”, can often keep us feeling angry or miserable to find our hopes continually let down.

4. Unhealthy communication styles:
Ever noticed feeling the need to tell that person what we think (once and for all). And then find yourself in an argument, or back to feeling ‘how you always do’? Blamed, ashamed or belittled.

What to do?
Be prepared with the following:
 Drop expectations:
Be realistic and don’t expect miracles – if there’s been a life-long pattern of quarrels and tension among the family, be mindful that they will not have not magically disappeared. It’s important to know that even at the time of year when you expect them to be gone, they’ll most likely not be. You may want to think “Mum’s mum and dad’s Dad”.

 Accept the imperfection of things, and that some matters are beyond our control.

 Think “it’s not about me”

 Managing your emotions:
Revisit our earlier post about dealing with emotions and triumph over your challenging emotions that may arise in response to circumstances.

 Understanding conflict:
Conflict in essence, is simply a matter of people having different and opposing values. As a general rule of thumb, there really is no right or wrong. Although it can be hard to swallow that someone may have such contrasting values to you that seem offensive. However, in these situations, it can be best to agree to disagree. Respect and value difference and diversity.

 Getting our communication skills right:
Communicate your needs by using the DEAR method to:
D – Describe what your concern is
E – Express how you feel about it
A – Assert what you would like, or your opinion
R – Reinforce the positives or negative aspects
For example:
“Mum, I know we’ve had our differences in the past (D); I’m worried that it might get in the way of our lunch together (E); could we perhaps agree to not talk about it (A); so we can have an enjoyable time together (R)”
Or
“Hey Jan, I’m really busy on Saturday night and won’t be able to cook the chicken dish as I said I would (D). I’m overwhelmed at the moment with so many things (E). Could you pick something up on your way over? (A) That would be so much easier, less stressful, and everyone will get fed! (R)”
Sometimes it helps to write out what you might want to say, using the above method, to prepare yourself.
 Think about your self-care
What would be beneficial to you to maintain your health and wellbeing eg, would it be helpful for your self-care to stay out until 5am in the morning? Or stay in the company of a verbally abusive family member for 7 hours?

 Strategise
Devise a plan in advance. Think through the event, who will be there, where it is etc. You may then want to propose a seating arrangement; set a time limit for your visit. Maintain light talk with ‘the difficult ones’. Consider (in advance) how you might manage those challenging conversations and moments when they arise.

This year, the festive season could be one that’s more fulfilling. If you would like any further support, call the centre and book in to see one of our counsellors.

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