Declaring a Truce at the Holiday Dinner Table
By taking what you’ve learned over the years—good and bad—you can make this holiday season shine.
With the holidays fast approaching, our emotions seem to jump all over the place. We’re excited, anxious, and stressed because there’s so much to plan, and we want the holidays to be perfect. Yet, the thought of the holiday dinner quickly reminds us of past events that have been anything but loving and peaceful. Many families have some kind of history of arguments that seem to erupt at the yearly holiday dinner table.
Can you avoid these uncomfortable, often repetitive, and predictable confrontations when you are the one hosting the holiday dinner? Is it possible to declare a truce to make the holidays more enjoyable? Here are some tools to make that happen:
Preparation Before the Holidays
Most families naively think that this year will be different and that the same old arguments will just magically disappear. Don’t be fooled. Yes, a year has passed, but unless the offending parties have worked on changing their patterns, nothing will be different. Patterns will repeat again and again! Rather than kid yourselves and hope for the best, be proactive by preparing for the inevitable. It’s as simple as having a plan that is talked about ahead of time, so that there’s actually a chance to change recurring dynamics.
1. Acknowledge that the problem exists and talk to those family members who get into it most often at the dinner table. Is there any way for them to discuss their issues ahead of time as an opportunity to understand the other’s point of view? If not, can they make a truce to avoid the "hot" topics at dinner? For example, "I will not bring up politics because I know it drives my mom crazy and starts a fight."
2. Appeal to each person’s love for the other, reminding them of their good feelings for each other and how bad they each feel when they fight at the holidays.
During the Dinner Feast
Whether or not you had a chance to prepare ahead of time, or if your efforts were in vain and the fight still happens, you can still be prepared with the following steps to deflect the argument during the holiday dinner:
1. Intervene lightly, yet effectively, "Hey, we’ve been here before, let’s table this for now and talk later. We’ll all feel better if we don’t continue down this road."
2. Acknowledge that each of their points of view is valid and that their feelings are legitimate—it’s simply that the timing is wrong.
3. Don’t take sides, just suggest to them to make a truce at that moment. Remember, if you get involved in the fight, it will only make it worse. Your job is to help the arguers save face and give them a chance to recompose themselves, as quickly as possible.
4. Change the subject. "Hey, let’s focus on how great Grandma’s pie is. I know we all agree on that!" Or call attention away from the argument by acknowledging the new puppy or grandchild. This not only helps the arguers, but also the other guests who are surely feeling uncomfortable!
5. Use humor if possible. Have a joke ready that everyone can appreciate.
If the fight happened, it is important to talk about what happened later when the timing is right. This will help you get ready for the next event with some new tools.
1. Talk to the arguers together and/or separately to remind them that you know they want to be happy at family events. The arguments are just a misguided way for each of them to be heard, seen, and appreciated. Help them each to take responsibility for their part of the argument rather than blaming and shaming the other.
2. Remind them that the argument cycle will repeat itself unless everyone does something different to break the destructive cycle. Discuss ideas.
You have an opportunity to make this holiday season different. With preparation, knowledge, and the use of past experiences, start now to create the holiday dinner you really want! It is possible to change old habits; it just takes time, energy, and a commitment to do this. Make this a holiday to remember for its happiness and your success for making it that way!
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of "Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy" and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Reader's Digest, Time.com, Yahoo!News.com, WebMD.com, and DrLaura.com. Sharon has appeared on TV, was quoted on The Insider TV show, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. She has also appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio and is the "Resident Shrink" on Coach Ron Tunick's radio show, The Business of Life, on KKZZ 1400AM. For more information, please visit her website at www.sharonrivkin.com.