THE BLOG
12/01/2014 04:34 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2015

9 Tips for Ending Family Feuds and Christmas Chaos

Maria Pavlova via Getty Images

Sadly, this holiday season, old hurts will keep countless families from being together. It's often easy to allow resentments, misunderstandings, disagreements and unmet expectations to get in the way and destroy the bonds that connect us. Don't let that happen to you! Instead, follow these nine tips and have a great holiday season.

1. Lower your expectations. Don't expect to feel happy just because you are all together. Don't expect to cook or eat a perfect meal. Don't expect your family members to get it right. If you have no expectations, you can have no disappointments. And, when you accept things as they are, your payoff is a sense of freedom.

2. Don't take it personally. In The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, Don Miguel Ruiz, a leader in the conscious awareness community, tells us: "Don't take it personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering."

I know that it's easy to fall into the take-it-personally trap when someone else's actions irritate, hurt or annoy you. However, in reality, other people are acting and reacting based on what is best for them. Everyone is focused on their own individual world.

3. Be a good guest. Respect your host's property and possessions. Clean up after yourself and your kids. Don't bring your pets unless they are specifically requested. Don't expect your host to monitor your children. Visiting your relatives should not signal a vacation from being a parent.

4. If you are the host, take care of yourself. It is almost impossible to be both babysitter and chief cook and bottle-washer. However, unless you ask for help and allow others to provide it, the burden will fall on you and your resentments may grow. If you ask for help and it's not forthcoming, let your guests know that this year the holidays were too much for you and next year you will be coming to them instead.

5. Avoid excessive drinking. Alcohol lowers our inhibitions and can leave your family open to a fiasco. When others hit the bottle a little too hard, that's your signal to go home or go catch a movie.

6. If you really don't want to go -- don't. However, do not wait until the last minute to cancel. Give your relatives time to make alternative plans.

7. Discuss the gift situation in advance. Make plans so that everyone understands your position and limitations. Simplify gift giving by using cash or gift cards. Some families do only the kids, others pick one name from a hat. Maybe you should all buy your own gifts for show-and-tell.

8. Under most family conflicts someone feels dismissed, discounted, disrespected, or disenfranchised. Avoid actions which might trigger these emotions. Make sure to include everyone in the planning, preparation and festivities. Try to be equal in your gift-giving to avoid slighting anyone. If, for some reason, this is not possible, do your giving at a time when you, and the receiver, will have complete privacy.

9. If you are carrying around a resentment from the past, address it -- in private. If you are going to hold a difficult conversation with a family member, remember to:

  • Prepare. Think about what you want to say and why you want to say it. Rate your issue on a scale of 1 to 10 -- with 1 being temporary and minor and 10 being ongoing and serious. Things that don't rate 8, 9, or 10 may not be worth bringing up. Instead, ask your self, in 30 minutes, 30 days or 30 years from now, will I still care? If not, it's often best to just let it go.
  • Set the stage. Select a time and place that allows you both to be clear-headed and free from distractions.
  • Call a truce. Come to the table and stay there. It is not acceptable to threaten to leave or cut-off connections.
  • Speak from the heart. Do not point fingers of blame. Instead focus on the future and finding solutions that work for both of you.
  • Listen, listen, listen. Listen as if you are an outside observer with no prior knowledge of the situation.
  • Allow things to unfold. Give yourselves time to think, process the information, and cool down.
  • Define the emotions. Under almost every human conflict, someone feels dismissed, discounted, disenfranchised or disrespected. These are the emotions that fuel the feud. Sometimes, all that is necessary is to clearly define that emotion. Realizing that both of us feel the same way may be enough to resolve our dispute.
  • Be willing to apologize. The closer the relationship the more likely you are to have stepped on each other's toes. If you cannot bring yourself to apologize for anything specific, use my old stand-by -- "I am sorry for your distress and anything I did to contribute to it." (NEVER say - I am sorry you feel that way.)

Even if your family has lived with chronic (or multi-generational) conflict it is possible to change the patterns that have kept you stuck. An agreement to disagree and move on may be all you need to prevent future fights. Or, you may want to assign a family member to play the role of mediator. If all else fails, seek out an expert opinion by consulting with a professional mediator. And, finally, remember, I am here to help and I welcome your questions.