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4 Ways to Relieve Tension and Keep the Peace at Family Holiday Gatherings

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The holidays are a time for families to gather and enjoy good times with each other — at least, in theory. In practice, many family gatherings are riven by division, arguments, and painful bickering. Old wounds can easily be reopened, and tensions from years past revived. If you want a happier, more peaceful holiday season, it’s important to do everything you can to defuse the tension that can arise between family members. Here are four practical steps toward achieving that goal.

1. Search for common ground. The best route to peace and mutual happiness between people who disagree is to find an area where they see eye to eye. People who might seem to have nothing in common can actually share a similar interest or idea. Simply being open to the possibility that you and an old rival might have an unexpected similarity is half the battle. After all, you are family, and family members are naturally like each other. If all else fails, try to make a connection based on your shared past.

2. Avoid painful topics. Sometimes a problem should be tackled on head on. Other times, a problem is irresolvable and should actually be ignored. If you and another family member have a longstanding disagreement, the holidays are probably not the best time to find a resolution. A source of strain might be buried too deep to ever be fully resolved. In such cases it’s best to set differences aside and accept the other person as they are. Don’t delve into a topic that will only cause trouble. It’s especially wise to avoid politics, religion, and other topics that are particularly likely to cause disagreements.

3. Spend some time away from each other. A major source of family tension during the holidays is that families are always together. Any group of people will become irritated and frustrated with each other if they are constantly together. Though the holidays may be a time to share with your family, that doesn’t mean you should be with them 24/7. If you detect feelings of annoyance building up towards your relatives, take a breather and spend some time alone. Taking a break for a few hours will relieve the strain and improve your mood.

Related: Three Basic Steps to Holiday Stress Reduction

4. Focus on the positive. Being positive might seem like generic advice, but it can be the key to a peaceful holiday season. Set yourself in the right frame of mind for family gatherings by remembering that the people you are going to spend time with are your closest relatives — you might not always get along, but you all still love each other. At gatherings, emphasize beloved traditions and other activities that everyone will enjoy. There will always be some tension among family members, but there’s no reason to let the negative vibes dominate the holiday season.

Too often holiday family holidays — which should be happy, loving celebrations — turn into negative, toxic experiences. Family gatherings shouldn’t be something painful to endure. It’s true that a perfect holiday in which all family members agree on everything, and there is nary a single argument or hurt emotion is impossible. That doesn’t mean real improvement isn’t possible. Don’t accept the idea that family gatherings must be unpleasant. This holiday season, use these four suggestions to have better, happier family celebration.