Holidays and Family Conflict

Many clients in my practice look upon their visits to family gatherings at holiday times with lots of ambivalence and even trepidation. 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 a sense of relief when the holidays are done, and everyone heads home to their daily lives.

An excellent example of this family quarreling that occurred all the time and not just during the holidays was the TV comedy “All In The Family.” Archie Bunker and his daughter- and son-in-law, Michael, were constantly at war over issues, from minor to those with the primary politics of the time. However, many of Archie Bunker’s and Michael’s arguments had to do with generational differences. All the characters are represented as working-class people living in Queens, New York. 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. The series was hilarious because it reflected what so many families experienced.

Another source of conflict often stems from relatives temporarily living together while visiting during the holidays. Last year, visiting us on his vacation, a dear friend of mine drove me almost to insanity because he sipped or slurped his coffee during breakfast. What better way do people have to get on each other nerves than having to cope with one another’s quirks and habits? 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 significant conflict after there has been an accumulation of irritability. For example, “why must Aunt Tilly repeatedly tell the same tired old story?” Why must Uncle George snort as he does during every meal?” These and other quirks can cause us to grit and gnash our teeth.

Even though they are now adults, sibling rivalries can explode into aggression once they are reunited. I 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 the most brilliant and most recognized in the family. The quarreling would be picked up the next time as though there had been no interruption.

It helps reduce this tension by remembering that there is much to be grateful for in the present rather than focusing on the past or petty differences. Accentuate the positive.

Wishing Everyone a Happy Hanukah and Merry Christmas



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