6 ways to avoid a family conflict this Thanksgiving

Obnoxious comments, annoying jabs, emotional upset, power struggles and childish behavior. Though these words are quite fitting for the comportment during the presidential campaign, they also unfortunately may apply to this year’s behavior around the Thanksgiving family dinner table. There has been a ripple effect around our country due to the very extreme reactions to the election and this effect has been felt in the very intimate setting of our homes.

The holiday season is supposed to bring to mind celebration and good food, but with the divide resulting from the outcome of the presidential election, try to keep in mind that spreading goodwill should begin at home. Here are some tips to promote peace and avoid contributing to a divide in your own family.

Begin a practice of tolerance in your own home

Make a pledge with your family to not engage in political talk. Forget politics and go watch a football game instead. Make the choice to engage in friendly rivalry. There are three games scheduled, so get ready for action with the Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys, and the Pittsburgh Steelers vs Indianapolis Colts instead. For those of you not interested in sports, create a gratitude pledge and every time a political thought comes to mind, think of anything you are grateful for. Put on a home movie and bring some good memories to mind and lastly play some music by picking some favorite CD’s. 

Act like you’re at work

When you get hired at a new job, you are required to go through orientation and are instructed by human resources in sensitivity training. So, when you’re at work, you understand that you shouldn’t bring up sensitive and personal subjects as to not offend your co-workers. Along with your “p’s and q’s”, watch your “p’s and c’s”.  If you know your uncle has extremely strong views opposite yours, then don’t egg him on and start a fight. Bring that same personal respect that you need to keep your job to your holiday dinner table and avoid intentionally upsetting or offending your family.

If political conflict can’t be avoided, as family gatherings can often elicit old feelings and patterns from childhood, try the following tips so things don’t get out of hand around the Thanksgiving table.

Remember your values

Families are an emotional unit, so try to focus on normalizing the reactions that are coming from the charged up emotions surrounding the election. The emotional triggers that family interaction can bring about can be difficult to avoid.

When you see this happening, take a moment and simply observe how this is affecting you. Notice what you are feeling; is this conversation making you anxious or angry? Slow down and become aware of your thoughts and your responses. Think about what your initial intent was at the beginning of the conversation. Avoid escalating a quarrel and instead validate the other’s point of view; you may just learn something new.

A family is made up of multi-generational members

Expect differences and be open to listening and learning. Families fight because relationship patterns form over time and can lead to dysfunctional communication patterns. Recognizing that your viewpoint and the way you perceive an interaction is not always the same as your cousin, sister or nephew. Consider and look at both views and try not gang up on each other. If you see a friendly debate turn hostile, step in and intervene to get everyone to cool down. In general each social group has rules and expectations of its members.  

A family is made up of multi-generational members and each have their own set of beliefs which stems from their social groups. Respect each generational role and the expectations and pressures each bring of its members. Kids and teens are entitled to their opinion too. They are experiencing this stress also; along with the added pressure of keeping up with social media and their peer groups.
Grab the kitchen timer

Remember no one wins in a family argument, but it can result in resentment and emotional estrangement. Set personal boundaries and disengage to help yourself and your family member not wind up with heartburn and or not speaking to each other.  Emotions are powerful and when you find yourself in emotionally charged situation, step away and count to 10 before you say something you regret. Give yourself a chance to calm down, and consider the possible negative outcome which can result from your comments. Leave the room if you feel your blood boiling, go into the kitchen and help with the cooking instead.

Create a bridge

Stay with I statements to avoid blame. Faulty communication can stem from misunderstanding, when you don’t take responsibility for what you say. Manage a sensitive subject by focusing on the person and not your political views. Ask yourself if this argument is worth a divide in your relationship. Try a compromise and agree to disagree. Remember your truth may be different from another’s. 

November has been a stressful month. The inevitable family arguments may occur, but hopefully these tips will help you navigate the sensitive subject of the Presidential election. For the families gathering together on Thursday to enjoy their turkeys, turducken or tofurkey, remember why you gather together each year. This is a time to connect, enjoy tradition, watch football and fall asleep on the couch from too much tryptophan. 

Sarah Mandel is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who received her Master’s degree from Rutgers, Graduate School of Social Work and her Bachelor of Nursing from Pace University, Lienhard School of Nursing. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling and works with both adolescents and adults.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


Tags Mental health political discussions Thanksgiving Turkey day

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