• Don Mackenzie

8 Ways to Maintain Healthy Relationships During Christmas

Relationships are complex and always changing. The Christmas holidays can be fun and enjoyable but some people experience conflict, disagreement and hostility when they gather together with family and friends, especially some of which they may not have had contact with for an extended period of time. This situation can be heightened by financial stress, alcohol and other drug consumption, work/life imbalance and blended/extended family caring arrangements. Often, we do not have the power or control to change other people’s behaviour but you can help regulate your response to those around you.

Here are some ways to maintain healthy relationships with your family and friends:

#1 Maintain boundaries

Relationships are best supported by clear boundaries and expectations. Know your limits with alcohol consumption and drink lots of water too. Acknowledge your trigger points or warning signs that the conversation or activity is exceeding your boundaries and remove yourself from the situation. This also includes respecting other people’s boundaries and other sensitivities.

#2 Be assertive, not aggressive

Some issues or actions of others may make you angry, anxious or sad, so it is important that you are able to assertively make comments or undertake actions. You can use statements like “I expected....’, “I was surprised/disappointed when...” or “I felt....” to describe how another person’s actions or comments made you feel. Being assertive rather than aggressive is particularly important when discussing values and beliefs that do not align with your own.

#3 Inquire compassionately

When catching up with people you may not have seen for a while, it is important for you to suspend your bias’ and preconceptions about them. Ask what happened to them rather than be judge, jury and executioner about their lifestyle and choices that may be different to yours. Be wary of any automatic negative thoughts you are having about a certain person or issue and re-evaluate this.

#4 Problem solve issues, don’t blame

Notice if you are looking at a person or issue from a blaming-perspective and only looking for facts which confirm this bias. Cognitive flexibility means you can take a step back and think through issues from a problem-solving perspective with the other person. Also, try and think through how you can best deliver constructive feedback to the other person which could include delivery in a private, personal and supportive environment.

#5 Practice acceptance and gratitude

Resolving a conflict is not achieved through either anger or forgiveness but rather through gratitude and generosity. Don’t attempt to avoid, eliminate or control the stressful issue, instead understand your values and how you can move toward these values in your thoughts and actions. Reciting three things that you are grateful for can circuit-break feelings of anger and forgiveness.

#6 Take a break for self-care

Recognise and listen to cues from your body (interoception) about threats and safety. If you are over-loaded or feel panicked, take time to go for a walk, enter another conversation, take some photos together or other ways to distract yourself from the stressor. Even finding a quiet spot away from everyone so you can meditate, practice mindfulness grounding techniques or breathing can be enough to rest and recharge.

#7 Be explicit in communication

In social situations, instances of miscommunication are common as the environment can be noisy or distracting fro your full attention to another person. Your normal voice, body language and other gestures can also be impaired or restricted in other environments. Some other people may feel confronted by explicit statements or direct communication as we often communicate through sarcasm, innuendo or other nuances which aren’t fully explained or communicated which can be confusing and misleading.

#8 Avoid unhelpful thinking styles

At various points, we all fall into some unhelpful thinking styles. Common thinking styles which impede or sense of self or sense of others around us include: black and white (all or nothing) thinking where you focus on perfection or failure; overgeneralising where you set up a pattern based on a single event; mental filtering out of any positive evidence, only focussing on the negative; jumping to conclusions; catastrophising where issues are blown out of proportion; unfair reasoning where you might feel an emotion eg. embarrassed so then think you’re an idiot; personalisation where you attribute self-blame; labelling yourself or another person eg. as a loser or stupid.

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