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Why family conflict occurs over holidays
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Why family conflict occurs over holidays

Most people look forward to a holiday or long weekend and for many, it’s an opportunity to spend time with their own or extended family. Despite putting in a lot of effort to have a good time and the best intentions, friction often arises and people feel grateful when they have to go back to work. Why is this?

Why does conflict occur when there is so much opportunity for a great time?

I have found two main reasons for family conflict over holiday periods. The first regards expectations and the second the realisation of differences that emerge when people spend time together.

Expectations: We all have dreams and desire things to be a certain way. Our upbringing, culture, the media and movies influence those expectations. We dream of a perfect family, everyone enjoying each other’s company, mutual support, loyalty and harmony. The reality might be different but these internalised images of the perfect family are very powerful determinants of our behaviour. When the internal ideal family is doesn’t match up to reality, we feel disappointment, anger or indifference. Family members end up being judged against a standard that is never verbalised and don’t even know they have to live up to. Conflict arises and unhappiness results.

The second reason for family conflict over holiday periods relates to expectations involves: Awareness of Differences in attitudes, intentions, beliefs and expectations. When we see our family for short periods, focus is often on the shared activities like having a meal. More time together allows differences to emerge e.g. beliefs about paying for things, spending time together or alone, discussing family problems in public etc. Different values emerge, wits more opportunities to discuss them or become irritated by other people than when seeing them fleetingly.

Advice: To avoid conflict over extended time spent with family, examine your expectations. Are they realistic or are they based on some romantic image of the perfect family?

Could you ‘cut your family some slack’ and not set expectations so high that no-one can reach them? I don’t mean you have to reduce your standards. Just don’t expect the picture perfect family that isn’t reality.

Secondly, accept that people have different values, beliefs and attitudes. Allow people their differences, state what is important to you but don’t try to change people. Enjoy your time together, rather than bemoaning how you wish things were.