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Have yourself a passive aggressive little Christmas!

Mid section of santa with boxing glovesThere’s no doubt about it: family dynamics are complicated.

And messy.

And sometimes, painful.

As much joy as the holidays bring, time spent with family at holiday celebrations can be challenging. We bring a green bean casserole, and maybe some emotional baggage to those family gatherings, too.

When all that togetherness turns sour, it’s helpful to remember two things:

Conflict often arises because of miscommunication about expectations. Be clear in what you want from others and how you expect them to participate. If you have houseguests, be a good host, but not a doormat. Show guests how the dishwasher and washing machine work. Tell them where the nearest grocery store is, hand them your list and send them on their way. If you need help with cooking or wrapping gifts, have tasks for them to do and give them ownership of it. Also, agree at the outset on when those tasks need to be completed.

Learn to distinguish between the content of a discussion and the process. The content of the discussion – what needs to get done and who’s going to do it – is mostly a matter of logistics (see above). The process is about how the matter was brought up (tone of voice, body language, timing, defensiveness, accusatory language) and can easily distract from the more matter-of-fact logistics.

Maybe your pattern is to hope that others will jump in and help, but they sit on the couch and let you wait on them. You resent it and get increasingly irritated over the course of the day, only to blow up when somebody finally asks if they can help. At that point everyone gets caught up in the heat of who did what when.

Family members often know how to push each other’s buttons.

Like all relationships, family relationships are most successful when the people involved are respectful of one another. Being clear about expectations and keeping the conversation focused on what needs to get done will go a long way in easing some of the tension we all feel when things reach a fever pitch.

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