How to dial it down, keep your cool and reduce conflict this holiday

How to dial it down, keep your cool and reduce conflict this holiday

Practical tips to reduce conflict during the holiday season (or anytime)!

The holiday seasons is a good time of the year to ask yourself, “What can I do better?”; “What shifts can I make?”; “What can I change?”

I’m sure that you’ve heard that “you cannot change your partner, you can only change yourself.” This is true. But I’m sure you also often hear the phrase “People don’t change.” This is not true. Of course, people change! They learn new things about themselves, their partners, their children, their friends, and their parents. They adjust to transitions, they change their dreams, their aspirations, their plans, and their minds. Their circumstances change, and so does their attitude, their expectations, and their behavior.

Personal Change and Growth

They also change because they have to. People don’t treat their 10-year-old children, or their adult children, the way they treated them when they were two years old. They wouldn’t put up with it. Similarly, partners who want a good relationship don’t treat each other the way they did 20 years ago, five years ago or even two years ago.

How do they do it? People change by…

  • Becoming aware of their partners’ complaints about them and committing to doing something about them 
  • Finding ways to adopt new ideas that make living together easier
  • Learning to adapt to their own and their partners’ shifts, preferences and ideas
  • Renegotiating the spoken or unspoken rules, developing a new bottom line, new wishes, new interests that lead to growing up and maturing
  • Choosing to react differently to differences, disagreements and disappointments

I think I made my point: Relationships don’t go well if people don’t change.

Control and Conflict

In this year of the Covid-19 pandemic, with its political divisions, lockdowns and losses, one thing is for sure: We have totally lost control over our fate. Sometimes, when we lose control, we turn up the volume.

If you have turned up the volume to try to win an argument or change your partner’s mind, you are not alone. That is an understandable way to regain some illusion of control when we don’t have any. But relationships do suffer from this escalation. 

Practical Tips for Turning Down the Volume

Here are some choices you can make to reduce the high tension. Consider how each choice can help improve your relationship and help you have a smoother holiday season with fewer conflicts.

  1. Choose if you want to engage. Sometimes, it’s best to not engage. But not engaging doesn’t mean disengaging from your partner, just from that conversation. You don’t have to engage in every disagreement, you don’t have to win every argument, you don’t have to talk about everything. 
  2. If you decide to engage, choose to listen first. Listening is a lost art in this culture. Listen with an open and curious mind. Ask questions, make sure you get what your partner is thinking and feeling. When people are together for a long time, they think they know each other well. But often, there is no way to know what’s on your partner’s mind. You may be surprised to learn things you didn’t know if you really listen. Note: If you have a partner who doesn’t tell you much of what’s on his/her mind, it may be because of the way you react to it when they do, or it may be that they are not in the habit of it, rather than because they are hiding something. 
  3. If what you are hearing makes you angry, choose to pause, take a deep breath, and ask yourself: Am I going to be nasty or kind? Am I going to be defensive or understanding? How do I want my partner to feel after we are done talking? You can choose how to respond. 
  4. If your partner attacks you verbally, choose to stay calm, and say: “You are insulting me right now, so I will leave the room for a while”. If someone is insulting or attacking, it’s ok to walk away. An attacker needs a target, and staying engaged makes you the target. You don’t have to be the target. You can choose to move away from target range.
  5. Choose not to try to prove your partner wrong. It will not go well. Adults need attention, affection, appreciation, and acceptance, just as children do. Arguments are never won if the other person feels demeaned and not heard. 
  6. Choose to laugh more. It’s ok to bring humor into a tense conversation, as long as it isn’t cruel, demeaning or sarcastic. 

Choose well and you’ll have a better holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving!

This piece was inspired by the article Before Arguments Boil, He Reduces the Heat, by Nicole Pajer. The New York Times. October 4, 2020.