The holidays are wonderful, however, as some of us may have experienced during Thanksgiving, they can also be very stressful. Spending time with extended family can often lead to arguments or strained relationships. While we all made it through Thanksgiving, chances are, you’re preparing for Christmas, New Year, and the entire holiday season where you may be spending more time with your extended family. So how do you recover from the family conflicts that may have occurred over Thanksgiving, and what do you need to do to prepare to see them again in the coming weeks?
Theology of the Body reminds us that families are School of Love, but too often they feel like battle grounds especially when it comes to disagreements about politics, religion, sexuality, and all the other issues that families feel passionately about. When we get into these discussions with family members, we can forget that the most important thing isn’t winning the argument, but rather, loving the person. The question we need to be asking ourselves isn’t “What can I say to convince my idiot cousin to repent of his idiotic ways?” But rather, “How do I need to respond to my cousin (or other family member) in a way that makes him feel genuinely heard and cared for even if he knows I don’t agree with him?” People aren’t projects. The more we can remember that, the more we can be effective witnesses to the people we love, even when we don’t see eye-to-eye.
Here are three More2Life Hacks for managing conflict with extended family:
Will I Be Able To Follow This Up Tomorrow? –When you’re tempted to argue with your extended family ask yourself, “Will I be able to follow up on this tomorrow?” In other words, Having a fight with a relative you only see two or three times a year is not going to do anything except prove to that relative that you are a jerk. Evangelization is all about relationship; that you know a person, understand them, and truly care–not from a distance, but in a personal way–about their lives. If there isn’t any reasonable way for you to build a discipleship relationship with this relative that can allow you to lead them, over time, to a deeper relationship with the truth, the best thing you can do is plant a seed by showing them how God’s grace allows you to remain unruffled, calm, and confident in the face of those big differences that divide your family. If you can manage to stop yourself from acting like the foaming-at-the-mouth religious lunatic they already think you are, they might just start to respect you, which gives you a better chance to represent the faith effectively in the future.
Redirect the Traffic–Even if you decide that you do have a strong enough relationship with this relative to enter into a real conversation about a contentious issue, avoid a head-on collision by redirecting the traffic. Rather than getting drawn into a “battle royale” at the family table, say, “Listen, this isn’t really the time to hash all this out, but if you’re genuinely interested in discussing this with me, I’d really love to discuss this with you over lunch sometime (or dinner at my house, or some other shared activity). Let’s table this for now and make a plan to really talk this out.” This approach allows you to weed out those relatives who just want to play the “Let’s fight” game while still allowing you the opportunity to disciple people who are genuinely interested in an authentic dialog. Plus, you’ll gain tons of credit from the rest of your family by showing them that you have the grace–literally and figuratively–to prevent THIS family get-together from turning into a ten-car pile-up.
People Aren’t Projects–If someone does take you up on your offer to get together for a follow-up conversation, remember “people aren’t projects,” they are people who deserve to be understood and loved. Before you say anything about what you believe–especially before you say anything about what you believe about their opinions, their life, or their choices, make sure you understand them so well, that even they agree that you get them. Don’t focus on lecturing. Focus on asking question, “Tell me more about why you think that way? Help me understand why that is so important to you? How does all this affect you?” Show the other person that you are more interested in loving them than in changing them. Ironically, they will be much more open to hearing what you say–and even changing their mind or ways–when they feel genuinely understood. That said, don’t think of this approach as some kind-of sneaky technique. Think of it as an opportunity to get to know someones’ heart and to let God’s grace flow from your heart to theirs.
For more tips on dealing with conflict and keeping peaceful relationships, check out God Help Me! These People are Driving Me Nuts! and make sure to tune in to More2Life—Monday through Friday on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, SiriusXM 139.
Find out more about our tele-counseling and spiritual direction services at CatholicCounselors.com