Most of us don’t like conflict or family tension. If we could, we’d put a peaceful blanket on every family event so that no family tensions or conflict would surface.
Unfortunately, where there are families, there are people. Where there are people, there are personalities. Where there are different personalities, there is tension, which brings with it opinions about how to do things and with whom to side. Thus, we have the age-old problem of family tension.
It would seem that the holiday season would bring goodwill and joy to us. Instead, sometimes the season actually ramps up the family tension and discord. How sad it is, but it’s true.
What’s a person to do when he’d rather skip the festivities because he knows there will be family tension? The tension might be covert, but it’s there. Then again, tension can also be exhibited in loud arguing and discord. No matter what type of family tension or from where it stems, it’s not fun.
Especially for the Christian, the Christmas season should be a time of joy and happiness. Unfortunately, our adversary is eager to intensify his efforts during the Christmas season and the accompanying family get-togethers. Satan never takes a sabbatical, and that’s why he uses what should be good times to create family tension.
No family, no matter how much they are alike or agree on most things, is without any conflict or tension. Sometimes we disagree on where to have the annual gathering (or when). We disagree on the menu and how to do gifts. We disagree on activities and events. You can name the ones in your family if they’re not listed here.
In addition to these added conflicts, there can often be an underlying family tension that never quite goes away. Sometimes it’s between a parent and a child; sometimes it’s between siblings; sometimes it’s between an uncle (or an aunt) and the nieces or nephews. Sometimes it’s between cousins. Sometimes there’s rivalry or competition. Opinions are given and feelings get hurt. People take sides and no one is wrong because everybody is right in his own eyes.
What’s a person to do when he dreads being at a family gathering? What’s a guy to do when he’d rather stay away if he has to spend time with his in-laws or brothers-in-law or that spoiled nephew?
You can stay home and pout, hoping everyone will feel guilty because you are not there. You can be miserable by missing out. Doing this will only add to the family tension, especially when you decide to show up at another time. Of that, you can be certain.
On the other hand, you can do the right thing and claim family as family, warts and all. While you’re doing that, don’t forget to remember that you’re not wart-free yourself.
It helps if we will recognize the potential for conflict, and have a plan. Truthfully, I’ve gone to events when I didn’t want to be there. I’ve dreaded going to some get-togethers because of things that have been said and done in years’ past. I would have welcomed an excuse like an illness that would allow me to be absent for good cause.
Navigating Family Tension
If going to an event is like going to a landmine where there’s bound to be an explosion, there are some things you can do to avoid those pitfalls. For starters, leave your own grenades at home! Even when we’ve been wronged or feel ostracized, it’s no excuse to practice warfare, no matter how subtle it is.
So how about starting by preparing our own hearts? How about asking God to help us navigate those treacherous waters?!
Ask God to help you be alert and to remind you to be silent when it’s not the right time to talk. Don’t try to use this time as a place to set someone else straight, even if they ‘deserve it’ or ‘have it coming to them.’ Think about it: is that the way you’d want them to treat you?
Ask yourself what you (really) think that Jesus would do if this were His family. As you consider these steps, don’t forget to ask God to bring healing to others in your responses. Ask Him to give you wisdom so you can identify pressure points and stay away from causing conflict yourself. You can also consider these ideas listed below.
7 steps that work in helping diffuse family tension
- Change the Subject. When there’s a discussion, disagreement, or just a question being asked from a nosy member, learn to change the topic. Have an easy question at the ready to divert the opposition. When there is a family member that is certain to bring conflict, consider what you could ask that person to get them off the subject and focus on something else instead. Find a way to compliment that person sincerely; it just might disarm him. If a person insists on prying you for information or reprimanding you or a family member, you can say something like “I am not comfortable talking about this with you right now. I’ll be glad to discuss this with you later, but this is not the time or the place.” If they insist, get up and walk away, or find someone else with whom to engage in conversation. Or, you can always go spend time in the bathroom. (That’s a good place to go to shed tears when you’re frustrated beyond yourself.)
- Escape Plan. Have one! Stay away from solo conversations with folks who will bring conflict. Avoid sitting alone with someone at a table or in a room if this person is going to begin a conversation that will create tension. If the tension could be between one of your children and another adult, monitor where everyone is and help guide your child to a safer place to eat or play. Have a sibling or spouse on the alert to come and ‘rescue’ you if they see you being ‘cornered’.
- Focus on Commonality. We are family. Even our memories as siblings can be different, but there are still things that we share. Perhaps allowing others to tell their memories will help us have a better understanding of their warts. Focusing on what we have in common will help build a bridge instead of a dividing wall.
- Know Conflict Sources. Don’t push the buttons, and don’t let someone else push yours. Be alert for those who tend to create division and conflict; don’t go there. I have a friend who tells me that when her kids get together, they can’t discuss politics, religion, birth control, birthing, homeschooling, education, or vaccines. “They are on all sides of the spectrum, so we can’t go there,” she’s said. I asked her what they talk about, and she said, “Mostly the weather! But if we can stay away from conflicting topics, we have a good time.”
- Recognize Land Mines. Don’t see how close you can get to a landmine before it explodes. Don’t go there. Easier said than done, I know. When you know that a comment or an opinion is going to produce an eruption like a volcano, stay away from that subject. There will be other times and other places to have those discussions.
- Shed Light, not Heat. Practice shedding Light and not heat. This means that sometimes, it’s more important to close your mouth than it is to be right. Being right will only create heat if the other party is not willing to listen, and nothing will have been accomplished except to keep the fire smoldering longer. Some of the best advice I heard was from my father-in-law. He would often say, “I think that will create more heat than light.” It was his way of saying we ought not to open up that can of worms at this time or in this place.
- Speak up when necessary. Don’t become a martyr, and don’t be silent when you should speak. It might sound the opposite of what I just said in #6, but there’s a time and a place to speak. There’s certainly a right way to speak. Confronting someone in front of an entire group is not usually a good idea. If you know a family member is being ‘bullied’ or treated unfairly, remember that sitting back and not doing anything is actually participating in the act. Speak out in defense of the one who is being manhandled.
Last but not least
At the end of the holiday season, what do we want to have happened?
If our purpose is to set everyone else straight (because we are never wrong), then we can just ignore these steps, for we will certainly accomplish just what we set out to do.
If our purpose is to be a catalyst for peace and harmony, then following these steps can help us get there. Remember that even though it seems impossible to you, all things are possible with God because nothing is too hard for Him. By asking Him to use us in bringing harmony to family tension, we can be a part of healing in our families.
It’s true that the best gift you can give in this season is yourself. This might include your friendship, your forgiveness, or your commitment to make the New Year better than ever with your family or your friends.
I wish you the best as you reach out to others during this season of the year. When you’re packing your bags for your holiday visits, you might want to consider some of these options.
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