Do holiday family gatherings cause you stress and anxiety? You are not alone.
What happens when we suddenly have all this compressed family time? For many families, it’s conflict. The gentle teasing goes a little too far. Old hurts, compounded by time and other issues that were never really resolved, are brought screaming to the surface. It does not have to be this way.
Last December a parent gave their family members the gift of mediation. An adult child had so much hurt built up with another family member they could no longer communicate or be in a room together. The gift was an opportunity for them to work through their issues privately with a neutral person to see if they could find resolutions that would work for them.
I was asked if I would mediate between the family members in an effort to repair the relationship for a Christmas celebration where everyone would once again feel comfortable attending – or even consider attending! Everyone agreed to the terms of our work and progress was made. New boundaries were established and a plan with a timeline was agreed to in an effort to get things back on track.
As a family mediator based in Victoria, here are my five tips to help families share information, understand different perspectives and hopefully get back on track:
Take turns without interrupting and really listen to each other. Anticipate hearing something you do not agree with and be prepared to focus on what they are saying anyway without reacting.
Try to understand what is important to the other person and how they feel. Instead of making assumptions, ask questions. Try to avoid questions that include “why” as they can be perceived as judgmental or challenging. A simple option is to say “tell me more about this.”
By focusing on the impact of the conflict or circumstance on you or someone you love, you will be less likely to trigger defensiveness in the other person.
Be flexible and think of at least two ideas or suggestions to move things forward.
If you cannot agree on what has happened in the past, shift your focus to what you can both agree on to go forward.
If both people follow what they agree to (which is more likely when they create the terms together), it can do a lot to repair a relationship and rebuild trust over time.
All relationships have their challenges and it is common to find conflict in an important long-term relationship. How you choose to handle the conflict going forward is what really counts.
If you are unable to manage the conflict on your own, mediators can be an important part of moving things forward in a positive and constructive way. The dialogue may be intense, so some people like the idea of having someone impartial to both prepare and guide them through these tough conversations. Mediators help families resolve some or all of their issues in over 90% of cases.
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