5 Tips to Having the Hard Discussions with Family and Friends Without Ruining the Holidays

Holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year. Filled with fun winter activities, yummy treats, and brightly wrapped packages, it’s no wonder so many people love the Christmas and holiday season. For others it can be a time of stress, loneliness, grief, and anxiety.

Whether it’s childhood memories and traumas, the recent loss of a loved one, or the new environment created by the COVID pandemic, for some it’s certainly the most difficult time of the year. While many of these situations would benefit from a trusted relationship, self-reflection, and possibly counseling, others are managed through personal decisions. Setting boundaries and establishing your priorities are a must to maintain personal wellbeing.

COVID brought not only concern for personal and physical health and wellbeing, but it certainly ushered in a new host of interpersonal challenges as well. From viewpoints on social distancing, masking, and vaccines, no health issue has started more arguments than this one. So how does one navigate the holidays, social gatherings, and friends and family relationships?

Priorities

Often, people celebrate the holidays from a perspective of obligation and tradition instead of considering their priorities.

What drives your decision making and how you spend your time and energy? This also comes into play with who you celebrate holidays with.

What do you hold as valued priorities in your life? What are you unwilling to compromise on? When you are in a discussion with someone who has a different perspective, do you feel your priorities are questioned? One way to maintain your personal mental health and relationships is to know what you hold as your priorities and stand so firmly in them that you are able to have a conversation or make a decision, yet not feel attacked.

Doctor Patrick has outlined how he sets and maintains his priorities in videos and articles before. You need to determine what yours are. After all, they will determine how you live and work! They will determine what you are willing to invest your time, money, and energy into. When your priorities are in order, you will be operating as your best self and can shift attention to where it is needed without feeling pulled in too many directions.

When it comes to holidays, use this list to help determine where to celebrate, with whom, and for how long. Some relationships and activities deserve a higher level of commitment. Know what those are for you and how you will choose to celebrate them.

Boundaries

In the last couple years, it has been made clear that politics and religion have not been discussed enough for us to build these skills as a society. We had all been told not to discuss these topics to keep the peace. Now, we don’t know how without all of the emotion that can ruin a relationship faster than the headlines change.

It’s not just politics and religion. How you raise your children, family decisions, healthcare, where you invest your time and energy, and even how and where you choose to celebrate can fall into these discussions. What conversations are you willing to have? Sometimes it is most loving and caring to have those discussions. Other times, it’s not.

One of the first things you need to do is to know where you stand and why. Are you open to conversation? Is the other person? Is this important enough of a conversation to have with this person?

While you need to know where you stand, not everyone needs to have your position justified to them. If it’s important to the relationship, it may absolutely be a conversation to be had. Or maybe it’s a conversation to be had at another time. Being aware of the situation and clear in your perspective can help navigate the conversation.

5 Tips to having the Hard Conversation

  • A time to speak and a time to reschedule: Is the setting the best place to have this conversation? Is it one that would best be tabled for another time? Maybe schedule a coffee chat or a walk to work through perspectives.
  • A time to agree and a time to disagree: Sometimes you’ll be able to reach an agreement, other times you may just have to use the old standby and agree to disagree. You don’t have to sacrifice your position here; you just may need to allow the other person to continue in their own perspective.
  • A time to hug and a time to love from a distance: Some situations won’t be resolved, and that’s hard. But sometimes the best thing for your own health and wellbeing is to choose to not spend time with someone if you know that it will only continue to spur on arguments, frustrations, and bitterness. Sometimes it’s easier to love someone from a distance, and sometimes it’s you that you are loving when you put some distance between yourself and others.
  • A time to stay and a time to leave: You may have joined a gathering of friends and family, only to find out that this isn’t the best environment. Are you being disrespected? Are your children being exposed to things they shouldn’t be? It is okay to leave a party early. It is okay to shut down the discussion and choose to stay if you think you can. Either way, knowing what your non-negotiables are will help in making the decision.
  • A time to focus on facts and a time to reflect on emotions: One of the most beneficial strategies you can use during a potentially heated argument is to remember to stay focused on facts during the heat of the argument. Reflecting on the discussion, your responses, and even your emotions later may give you great insight on moments to grow, but during the conversation, try to table those heated emotions and focus on facts.

Don’t be afraid of the hard conversations, just know where you stand, what you are willing to discuss and see another perspective on, and what is an absolute non-negotiable. Have grace with yourself if you blow it. But remember to have grace for the other person as well. One thing is for certain, when you know your boundaries and respect the other person’s, you’ll have a much more productive discussion, possibly be able to save the relationship, and enjoy your family and holiday gatherings so much more!