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[ARTICLE] Why the Holidays can Bring More Conflict than Joy
Filed Under: Wellness | Published: Dec 3, 2009 | Author: Mr. Brett R. Williams, LMFT
Help with the emotions around the holidays typically focuses on the "Holiday Blues", but there is very little press regarding the tension and conflicts that erupt during this time of year.  Relationships are like the proverbial canary in the mine shafts, in that they are the first to be affected by stress and tension.  When we are upset we typically don't snap at our friends or coworkers, it all comes out towards our spouse or intimate partner.  Although this is intended to be a time of joy and celebration the holidays bring stress, which in turn gets dumped in our relationships. 

The explanation for why the holidays create stress is very simple.  Stress is another way of saying demand.  When you place high demands on an engine or heavy loads on a piece of architecture you can also say you are placing stress on the engine or the building, the word is interchangeable.  The same is true for our emotions, when there are demands on us emotionally we feel it as stress.  What's interesting from an emotional point of view is that the demands can be positive or negative, it does not matter.  Getting married can produce as much stress as getting fired. 

Armed with this new understanding it should becomes obvious why Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas can be filled with stress, because of the added demands created by these celebrations.  Gifts, meals, visiting relatives, and extra cleaning all produce added pressure.

Tension, frustration, irritation, and a general lack of patience are all the common reactions to stress. Without an emotional cushion our tolerance level drops and before we know it we are snapping at each other over trivial issues.  Our partner is unfortunately just as stressed as we are and their reaction is to snap back, which sets off conflict. 

So what should be done?  What can be done? Skipping the holidays may come to mind, but it is not really a valid option.  The next best answer is to practice staying out of each other's emotional upset.  This technique is called monologuing. 

There are 7 essential communication skills taught at Help Talking, from loving to problem solving, but the one most relevant to the season is learning how to stay out of each other's stress.  The key idea here is that there can only be one crazy person in the relationship at a time. By only having one person venting their stress at a time it prevents a relationship from feeding off negativity and becoming explosive.  When your partner is stressed and you remain calm, it gives them a chance to dissipate their energy and feel better.  Likewise, when you are venting and your intimate can remain a neutral sounding board it will give you a safe place to discharge.

One simple technique for creating a constructive monologue is find an object like a tissue box or a pillow and allow that to signify who is taking and who is listening.  Hold on to the pillow as long as you need in order to say everything that needs to be shared.  The other person can and should make comments, but all the remarks should be focused on supporting what the person with the pillow is saying.  If the person with the pillow is repeating themselves, it is because he/she does not feel heard, and the listener (the one without the pillow) will need to redouble their efforts to let the speaker know he/she is being heard and understood.

This maybe one of those situations where it is easier said than done.  Learning to monologue can take some practice and know how.  A relationship coach or a marriage counselor can really assist by stopping in reactivity or defensiveness and keep the monologue focused and productive. Before your next blow out get online and find a professional who understand the art of monologuing and keep your holidays and your relationship joyful. 

Written by: Mr. Brett R. Williams, LMFT

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