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Hoping for a Happy Family Holiday? Here's How

Efforts to understand others can help maintain peace, expert suggests

SATURDAY, Dec. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Despite messages of peace and love, conflict is all too common when families get together during the holidays.

Unresolved hurtful situations, hidden animosities and disagreements about values, beliefs and "ways of being" are among the main reasons for these family spats, Shelia McNamee, a professor of communications at the University of New Hampshire, explained in a university news release.

There's an expectation that everyone in a family gets along as if they all have similar life experiences, but that's not the case with modern families, she added.

"All relationships require coordination and negotiation, but for some reason in families, we just expect communication to be easy. Until we slow down and really consider what others are doing and saying, we will very likely find ourselves confronting, oppressing, accusing and demonizing anything that doesn't concur with our own ways of being," McNamee said.

"Our culture presents holidays as warm, meaningful moments to be with loved ones, particularly family. Yet families are so diverse, and it is highly unusual for any given family to live up to the cultural expectations of joy and love during the holidays," she added.

McNamee said families may want to establish some communication "ground rules" prior to gatherings. These rules might include:

  • Using only "I" statements when speaking.
  • Instead of blaming someone, ask questions to gain understanding.
  • Family members shouldn't be allowed to interrupt each other.
  • Engage in "generous listening," instead of using listening as a chance to "reload" during a disagreement.
  • Relatives should take a deep breath and a pause in conversation when they feel they're getting excited or angry in response to each other. Count to three and try to understand what could support the action of the other person. For example, they may feel their action is logical. Understanding this may lead to a meaningful question instead of a counterattack.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about family issues.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of New Hampshire, news release, Dec. 3, 2009

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