Going home for the holidays? How to navigate conflict and deal with difficult people

The holiday season is upon us and for many that means all the tension that comes with it. This time of year can be a minefield of uncomfortable moments, disagreement and outright conflict. It’s no wonder many young people are apprehensive about returning home for the holidays after living far away.

There are many reasons interpersonal difficulties can arise over the holidays. Perhaps your aunt doesn’t like what you did with her pie recipe, or your friend’s new partner has unsettling political beliefs. Maybe you haven’t lived at home in a while, but your family still talks to you like you’re the same person you were in school. Maybe you’re bringing your partner to meet your family for the first time, and aren’t sure whether everyone will get along.

People have socialised less with friends and family since the pandemic, and may be feeling out of practice. This can be compounded by all the things people can disagree about.

Some topics are higher risk for blowups, and best avoided in such settings (religion and politics, for starters). Whether it’s true or not, there’s a popular perception that tricky subjects are more numerous and divisive than ever. Dare one bring up anything adjacent to Brexit, vaccinations or the cost of living? Even bringing your mobile phone to the dining table could get you in trouble.

So what happens if your uncle has too much mulled wine and something slips out that annoys or even horrifies you? Family arguments are a common theme in holiday films, but their scripted resolutions are rarely realistic and not based on empirical research. By considering how these things work in the context of real interactions, we can move from what sounds good in theory to what we can put into practice.

Think before you speak

In real-world situations, interactions can escalate before you’re even fully aware that they’re happening. You might be able to anticipate why and how an interaction might become a problem. Does alcohol generally lead to arguments in your family? Are your parents usually hypercritical of your new partners? Consider how to avoid problems before they start.

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For the full article by Dr Jessica Robles visit the Conversation.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 22/240

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