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The Battle with the In-Laws: When the Holidays Aren’t So Jolly

 

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The holidays, whether they are birthday celebrations, the 4th of July or religious events, are a tough time for many people in biologically related families, let alone adding in-laws and extended family members into the mix. For most of our holidays, my husband and I spend time with our families separately, and then, my husband comes back home to spend time with myself and my dad and brother. Why? The reason I do not go over to my in-laws’ home is due to ongoing conflicts between myself and his parents.  This dynamic is not ideal. As newlyweds, this is not the way it is supposed to be. My assumption after we got married is my husband, and I would spend time together creating happy memories, enjoying special traditions, and spending time with those we love and who love us. However, my husband is very close to his family and in the past, he has wanted to spend most or all of his holiday time with them. Our time apart caused many issues in our new marriage.  Recently, he has chosen to balance his time during holiday gatherings as he realized that this was hurting our relationship.

Another issue that places a hardship on our situation is the time it takes to travel to the in-laws home and the cost of traveling there. Although I have spent much time there while my husband and I were dating, I feel we have established our home and feel it is unfair to continue to be expected to make all the sacrifices…expenses, travel time, missed time with my family, and to top it off, to experience the stress of the ongoing conflict. It is to the point where I cannot just hold my tongue and pretend this is not a problem in our relationship. I cannot continue to avoid conflict or communicating my needs or how this makes me feel quite sad. When I avoid communicating my concerns and needs, it has only led to poor relationships and misunderstandings.

So, what do you do when you find yourself in this situation especially when you are not off on the right foot with your in-laws after marriage? Do you just suck it up and continue to pretend it doesn’t bother you? NO! For me, this only built anger, resentment, hurt feelings and escalating conflict distancing myself further from my in-laws and damaging my relationship with my husband. In thinking through and weighing various options, you have to be cognizant of everyone’s needs. What are they? Knowing this will greatly assist in how you can negotiate what might work moving forward. For example, I know my in-laws have eight children to consider. They would consider it a burden to leave their home just to visit us when they have other children to consider. My husband’s need is to be with his family and continue to honor the family’s special holiday traditions. And of course, if/when we do decide to have children, we will have much more than just their needs to consider for our situation. But it varies situationally, and so thus, there are many considerations regarding needs and concerns of the entire family.

Once you have identified the major needs of all involved, then consider these additional recommendations to reduce or manage conflict at holiday or special events between your spouse and in-laws.

  • Discuss expectations with your new spouse (before marriage if you can). Holiday family traditions and how to spend time with the two separate families is often a concern for many newlyweds. Will you be okay with how your spouse chooses to spend his/her time? If not, then you need to communicate an honest view of your expectations. 
  • Make a plan with your spouse to have a challenging conversation with the in-laws. You and your spouse need to decide if both of you or your spouse alone will communicate the concerns and your needs for a respectful engagement. This conversation needs to be done well before the holidays or special event.
  • Create a backup plan with clear boundaries. You can do all of the planning ahead of time, but what if this doesn’t work? You can’t change anyone. They very well might continue to criticize, pass judgment, and make hurtful or embarrassing remarks. You have to decide what are the boundaries, and how will you respond when they do. For me, I might say “I can no longer be a part of this conversation.” and then, walk away. Later, convey in a respectful manner that the remarks hurt you. For example, “I had to walk away because I felt hurt and embarrassed.
  • Ask your spouse what role he/she will maintain during conflicts with his/her family towards you. Will they be a mediator, an avoider, a fighter, or a peace-keeper? This role is important to determine as you do not want to pursue an uphill battle alone. You also want to know how you should approach the conflict since this is not your family of origin, and you may be unfamiliar with their communication style.

Try to enjoy the holidays as best as you can while showing your in-laws that both sets of feelings do matter. For tips on how to manage conflict like this without avoiding it all together, listen to the Texas Conflict Coach® ‘s radio program episode Repairing the Damage of Conflict Avoidance with Pattie Porter and Stephen Kotev!

 

Have a Great Day!

Ann Margaret Zelenka

Graduate Student Intern

University of Baltimore

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Neighbor Nuisance Brings You Holiday Annoyance

 

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Dealing with the normal stress of the holidays can be enough to handle. Then add those annoyances and disruptions you have to deal with in your neighborhood…loud holiday parties, cars blocking roads and your driveway, those bright holiday lights and decorations. All invading your peace and quiet. The holidays can bring people together just as equally as they can erupt into full blown holiday mayhem. Conflict coaching experts, Pattie Porter and Stephen Kotev, will discuss strategies to keep neighbor conflict at bay and help you manage your triggers to those nuisances you cannot control.

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Breaking Bad: The Decision to Change Holiday Traditions

holiday-traditionsBreaking away from family traditions during the holiday season can be difficult.  Regardless of the reason or the explanation given to your family, friends or spouse, it rarely goes well. Why is that? The fact is that traditions are traditions for a reason. Traditions hold a symbolic or significant meaning to your family, friends and yourself. Your absence from a tradition is more than just, “Hey, sorry we won’t be there this Christmas ”. Your absence from a tradition means the loss of chances to hear family stories or to connect with distant family members who you probably will not see until next year. Tradition is a sensitive topic especially when it involves holidays or large family gatherings, and it can create unpleasant feelings and conflict.

There could be many reasons why you decide to break from a family tradition. Here are a few that I came up with…

  • The growth of personal relationships (marriage). You and your new spouse want to start a tradition within your own home to celebrate the holidays. This can make your family or your spouse’s family upset.
  • The ignorance to diversity and difference within your family. For example, the fear to introduce a new spouse, college friend or co-worker from a different religious, racial, or economic background. These situations can create tension for all parties involved. See clip Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
  • The strained relationship with in-laws. The constant offenses or verbal attacks from each other during traditional holiday meals can discourage your attendance at those dinners.
  • Personal lifestyle choices. For example, you are now the raw vegan or vegetarian who no longer indulges in meat and/or dairy products. Yet your family still makes those traditional holiday favorites ham, deviled eggs and mashed potatoes, which you cannot eat.
  • Simple boredom. I will not sugar coat. I know family traditions can become stale and boring; so, you stay home or seek another place to go instead of attending the traditional holiday festivities your father or mother have hosted over the years.

Whatever the reasons are, do not brush them off. Don’t wonder if you are the bad guy because you want to break with tradition. Remember your reasons are just as important as the tradition itself! If you want to start your own family tradition say that, but say it respectfully, explain why and say it early. Don’t wait until the day of Christmas dinner to decide you want to break tradition. If the religion or the race of your significant other worries you, speak to your family ahead of time, don’t bring your significant other into the chaos. If in-laws are purposeful grouches, tell your spouse and speak to the in-laws privately before the family affair. If you are the vegan or vegetarian at the traditional meat-loving family dinner, bring a dish for the family to try. If a particular family tradition is boring, talk with mom or dad to change it up a bit. Just remember to be respectful, show that you still care and speak up early.

To learn more about the break from family holiday traditions visit Breaking With Tradition: How to Navigate the Delicate Subject of Changing Family Holiday Rituals or listen to our recent podcast, When Cultural Expectations Collide During the Holidays: Strategies for Multicultural Families.

By Tierra Henry, Graduate Student
University of Baltimore Dispute Resolution Program

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Holiday Travel Mayhem – Reducing Stress and Conflict

Preparing for TSA during the holiday season

Preparing for TSA during the holiday season

Many of us are not strangers to conflict that occurs during the holiday season. This is especially true for those of us who travel by plane to visit our family and friends out of town. If you cannot manage your stress and anxiety or take steps to prevent conflict, your holiday travel plans are sure to be negatively affected.  The conflict that appears is not solely based on airport security, delayed or cancelled flights. Your behavior, attitude and approach will influence how the conflict transpires.

Let’s look at an example. Its December 22nd, you and your 2 children arrive at the airport. You will depart from Texas to visit your mother and father in your Maryland hometown. You are going through the checkpoint with the wrapped gifts as the carry-on items. Included in one of the wrapped gifts are 3 bottles of perfume for your mother. In addition, your favorite cranberry sauce and holiday juice are in the bag as well. Security prompts you to stand aside because your liquid items exceed the 3-1-1 policies for carry-ons. You have also been asked to unwrap your gifts. The liquids are not allowed through checkpoint. Therefore, you must get back in line and place them in a check bag or dispose of the items. You are upset and begin to shout and point at security personnel. TSA (Transportation Security Administration) officials ask you to step to the side because your behavior has become inappropriate.

Your reaction to a situation might be a key factor in why the conflict manifested. Did you fail to think before you reacted? Yes! Don’t beat yourself up about it, I am guilty of this as well! Especially during the holiday season, you want everything to flow perfectly. Therefore, one mistake or uncontrollable situation such as a delayed or canceled flight could change your entire mood. It’s okay. Understand that unexpected things happen. The way to lessen the stress and anxiety is to learn how to manage conflict constructively. Think about the things you can control…such as carry-ons and checked luggage to prevent further conflict…here are some tips.

Strategies to reduce stress and prevent conflict from escalating include:

  1.  Step back and think before you react! Your goal is to remain calm and choose how you will respond to the TSA agent’s request so that you can move through the   checkpoint quickly and onto your gate.
  2. Be aware and prepare. Visit the TSA or airport’s website before you begin to pack for a flight as there could be changes in procedures for holiday gifts and food.
  3. Ship Gifts Early. Consider the option to ship the gifts ahead of time. The fewer carry-on items mean that there is less to worry about at the checkpoint or for that matter to worry about having your carry-on not fit in the overhead bins and being forced to check it in at the gate
  4. Arrive early. Give yourself enough time at the airport to deal with  larger crowds,  last minute changes such as he switch of items from carry-on to your checked bag  or flight delays or cancellations due to weather.
  5. Check out TSA’s Blog on their 2013 Holiday Travel Tips Refer to TSA’s website to see which types of foods are allowed through checkpoint.

To learn more strategies for holiday traveling, please visit Helpful Hints for Holiday Travelers and Traveling with Food or Gifts.

Listen to our recent podcast Surviving Holiday Travel .

By Tierra Henry

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore Dispute Resolution Program

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Naughty or Nice: How to Handle Holiday Neighbor Conflict

STOP the music!

STOP the music!

Conflicts with neighbors can be some of the worst disputes you can encounter. With the holidays approaching, family parties, festivities, holiday decorations, loud music and unruly guests who blocked driveways are some of the many things that fuel neighbor conflict. These types of irritations can turn into unexpected arguments and are the start of an unhealthy conflict if not discussed constructively with your neighbors.

For example, your neighbor has family and friends over for a pre-Christmas dinner. Your lights are out and your car is not in the driveway.  A few people from your neighbor’s house are parked along side the street and you are blocked from your driveway entrance. Your neighbor believes it’s okay because he/she thinks you’re out of town for the holidays. However, later that night you arrive home after a long day of last minute holiday shopping you are furious because you cannot get into your driveway and your neighbor has music playing loudly. Your initial reaction is to get out of your car and bang on your neighbors door to give them a piece of your mind. Take a breath to weigh your options.

Often times these disagreements come from unmet expectations and can cause you to react in a not-so neighborly way. In order to productively approach the neighbors, ask yourself some questions before you address the conflict with your neighbor.

  • What exactly is the situation you are upset about?
  • What does your neighbor do or say/not do or not say that irritates you?
  • What do you need? (e.g. quiet time, ability to get in and out of your home)
  • How will you say it and with what kind of tone or attitude?
  • Where will you have this discussion? At your place, your neighbor’s home or at a coffee shop? Wherever it is discussed, remain calm and explain how it is affecting you. Remember, people get defensive when you bring up a conflict or they feel they are being attacked.  

Consider these strategies for how to prevent conflict or manage it with your neighbors.

 1.)   Know your Homeowner’s Association (HOA) or apartment rules pertaining to large parties, outside decorations, and parking to prevent receiving a warning notice or having cars towed.

 2.)   Inform your neighbors of an upcoming holiday party.

3.)   Discuss your needs such as parking, loud music and partygoers.  This allows your neighbor and you to discuss potential areas of irritation and to come to an understanding and prevent potential conflict.

 4.)   Never assume that your neighbor knows what he/she is doing is bothersome to you.

 5.)   If you become triggered or irritated by a situation, remain calm and practice what and how you will approach your neighbor. Be clear about how the situation is impacting you and what you need.

 6.)   If a neighbor has been difficult in the past or communication is not effective consider other options such as mediation.

 To learn more about how to prevent and deal with nuisance neighbors, visit Conflict with Neighbors- Suggestion for Preventing Conflict and Neighbourhood Disputes or listen to our upcoming podcast Neighbor Nuisance Brings You Holiday Annoyance to prepare for the holidays.

Written by Tierra Henry, Graduate Student

University of Baltimore Dispute Resolution Program

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Don’t Let Greed Breed Conflict And Interfere With Your Holiday Cheer

Overwhelmed by gift exchanges.

Overwhelmed by gift exchanges.

Holidays, Holidays, as Andy Williams said “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” and I’m sure it is for many. Unfortunately, it can be stressful with unrealistically high expectations and unforeseen conflicts ending with nasty arguments, disappointed family members and friends. Gift-giving exchanges among our growing extended family and friends causes some of the most anxiety and frustration. Why? Unmet expectations, values we place on others or ourselves about gift giving, and the need for love and affection that often gets tied to the gift and gift giver.

Have you ever been unsatisfied with your gift? Thought your husband, wife, best friend, sister or someone close to you didn’t spend enough on you?  Were you expecting something different? The hair dryer was not on your “expected” gift list. Could you not afford to give everyone a gift due to the growing size of your family? These unmet expectations create conflict. Hurtful comments are made. You feel the tension, the awkward silence and the anxiety.

The truth is we have all been there in that same position. You are not alone. Every year you tell yourself “I’m going to plan better next time” or “I will stick with a budget” but it never works out. Mentally you are drained and you haven’t prepared yourself for the chaos that will come when your family, best friends or unexpected guests arrive at your home for holiday festivities and gift exchanges.

Imagine, it’s Christmas day at your home and your family is exchanging gifts. Your aunt opens her gift and her facial expression goes from a smile to a face of concern. You ask her if she likes her gift and her reply is “yes”. Later that day you find out she is upset because the gift you got her is entirely too expensive.  You spent way more on her than what she spent on you. Yes, people get upset if they receive a holiday gift that they believe is too “pricey”. In addition to your upset aunt, you also find out that your cousin is saddened because you didn’t get him a gift. Unfortunately, you did not have enough money to buy him a gift.   You believe in spending within your means or budget. Right? That’s exactly right! Your cousin goes off on a tantrum and believes that favoritism within the family is the reason he did not receive a gift, not the fact that you did not have enough money. The conflict begins.

Here are some tips for how you can keep money and gifts from creating family conflict.

  • Create a budget and STICK TO IT! Don’t spend what you can’t afford.
  • Try creative ideas like “Secret Santa”. Decide on minimum and maximum costs. Explain the rules CLEARLY!
  • Be honest. It does not hurt to explain to family and friends why you decided to change the gift giving process.
  • Use Gift Cards.  Relatives and friends can buy whatever they want! Even giving the same gift can eliminate conflict then no one complains about favoritism.
  • Communicate effectively…be open and transparent about your expectations and hopes for the holiday season.
  • Show appreciation for the thought and action behind the gift.

To learn more on preventing conflict around gift giving this season, visit How To Avoid Money Arguments During the Holiday Season and Communication Currents.

Listen to our podcast archives to help you prepare for the holidays.

       How To Manage Financial Conflicts Within Your Family During The Holidays

By Tierra Henry, Graduate Student, University of Baltimore

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When Cultural Expectations Collide During the Holidays: Strategies for Multicultural Families

The holidays bring together families with long-held traditions, customs and celebrations. These holiday traditions are founded in our roots…our cultural identity, religious beliefs, and family values. The customs and traditions are sacred. But what happens when two families merge a multi-cultural or interracial marriage? Each family brings with them their own cultural expectations with different values and priorities.  The pressures to conform and to honor those traditions of the other family can cause stress and fracture points not only in the marriage but between the in-laws and extended families. Multi-cultural families have a unique need to bend, flex, compromise and accommodate one another’s contrasting ways.

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Beware of the Grinch – Holiday Considerations for the Global Workplace


Every holiday season, workplaces around the country ponder whether to have their annual Christmas party and whether to decorate with all of the glitter and bows that accompanies the traditional American celebration. Employers’ stress and anxiety rises as they think of the potential conflict lurking around the Christmas tree…the Grinch.

With diversity comes the recognition that there are a number of fall and winter holidays that are  globally recognized celebrations…Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and Bohdi Day. In a global workplace, multiple cultures are represented honoring a number of traditions, religious beliefs, and cultural expectations. In preparation of this season, we will discuss a major trap employers find themselves in that can lead to a lawsuit and strategies to put into place at your workplace for a more peaceful season.

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