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Holidays and Family Conflict

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

There are many clients in my practice who look upon their visits family gathering at holiday time with lots of ambivalence and even trepidation because. Instead of the visit with family and friends being filled with warmth and happiness, it becomes a time of stress, tension and direct conflict. Often, the result is that there is a sense of relief when the holidays are done and everyone heads home to their daily lives.

A good example of this family quarrelling that occurred all the time and not just at the holidays was the TV comedy, “All In The Family.” Archie Bunker and his daughter and son-in-law, Michael, were always at war over multiple issues from those what were minor and petty to those having to do with the major politics of the time. However, many of the arguments between Archie Bunker and Michael had to do with generational differences. All of the characters represented while, working class people living in Queens New York. As such, Michael and his wife were asserting their differences and rebellion against the attitudes of their parents and families. Perhaps Michael and his wife saw themselves reflected in Archie, which is why they had to rebel.

Another source of conflict often stems from relatives temporarily living together while visits during the holidays. What better way do people have to get on each other nerves than having to cope with one-another’s quirks and habits. Last year a dear friend of mine, visiting us on his vacation, drove me almost to insanity because of the way he sipped or slurped his coffee during breakfast. I’m usually a tolerant person but by the end of the week I was ready for him to go home.

In a family reunion these habits that others find annoying can explode into a major conflict after there has been an accumulation of irritability. For example, “why must Aunt Tilly tell the same tired old story over and over again?” Why must Uncle George snort in the way he does during every meal?” These and other types of idiosyncrasies can cause us to grit and gnash our teeth.

Even though they are now adults, sibling rivalries can and do explode into aggression once they are reunited. I can remember that, during my childhood, Uncle Sidney and Stanley would get into bitter arguments over the best ways to run their respective businesses or which stocks were the best and most financially rewarding on the Stock Market. Behind these conflicts were the old competitions over who was smartest and most recognized in the family. It seemed as though the quarrelling would be picked up the next time as though there had been no interruption.

It might help to reduce all of this tension by remembering that there is a lot to be grateful for in the present rather than focusing on the past or on petty differences. In other words, accentuate the positive.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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