Tips on Fair Fighting This Thanksgiving

By: Karin Thebus, Psy.D. | November 26, 2013

Most of us would say that we love our families… that is, until we spend extended periods of time with them. When family members stop playing nice and the gloves come off, many families go to what can only be described as “the dark side.” Even the most pleasant and caring family units are vulnerable to stress and family feuds over the holidays. In-between the fun and excitement there inevitably will be moments of stress and frustration. Try these tips on how to navigate the land-mines of misfortune this Thanksgiving and enjoy the holiday by “fighting fair.”

Tip #1: Maintain Control
A primary requirement for any fight is to maintain control. You do not have permission to be childish, abusive or immature. If you have legitimate feelings, you are entitled to give a reasonable voice to those feelings in a constructive way. Try using “I” statements and use feeling words which will take the other person off the defensive.

Tip #2: Know your own feelings
Being in touch with your own true feelings is essential before you can constructively handle anger or conflict. If you find yourself having an exaggerated reaction to something that others might seem as neutral, consider where your feelings are really coming from.

Tip #3: Keep it private
Fighting in front of your children or other family members is not advised. Talking privately is likely to be more constructive, will make others feel more comfortable, and is more respectable than arguing publically or brining other family members into the discussion.

Tip #4: Keep it relevant
Stick to the facts and what is happening now. Resist the urge to bring up old grudges or sore points when they don’t belong in a particular argument. Put boundaries around the subject matter so that a fight doesn’t deteriorate into a free-for-all.

Tip #5: Keep it real
Deal with the issue at hand instead of taking out your anger on someone else or in a different way. This is called being passive aggressive. Get real about what is bothering you, or you will come away from the exchange even more frustrated.

Tip #6: Be respectful
Stay focused on the issue, rather than deteriorating to the point of attacking a family member personally. Don’t let the fight degenerate into name-calling.

Tip #7: Remain task-oriented
Know what you want going into the disagreement. After stating your complaint and how it made you feel follow-up with a specific behavior request. If you don’t have a goal in mind, you won’t know when you’ve achieved it.

Tip #8: Know when to walk away
You might not resolve your issue right away. Arguments should be temporary, so don’t let them get out of hand. Know that it is okay to let an argument rest or allow it to end. Recognize when an olive branch is being extended to you — perhaps in the form of an apology or a joke — and give yourself a face-saving way out of the disagreement.

Tip #9: Maintain perspective
Every single thing you disagree about is not an earth-shattering event or issue. Keep the intensity of your argument proportionate to what you are arguing about. Try to focus on what is around you to be thankful for – the food, your family, kids, and the ability to argue in the first place!

Tip #10: Develop humor
Humor goes a long way towards promoting healing. When you feel stuck in an emotion, distract yourself with something, or someone that is pleasurable and fun. Try playing catch with the dog, or hide-and-go seek with the kids. And…don’t forget to laugh!

Some families have issues that are long-standing or a current ongoing issue. If this is the case, know that timing is everything. When you are sitting down for dinner or the whole family is gathered around, it might not be the best place to bring-up a major problem. Instead, try setting aside a time outside of the holidays to work through your issues. A family therapist can help you through these complex issues and guide you towards a solution. Life is too short, and family is too precious to let unresolved issues spoil your holiday cheer.

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