How to manage family fallout this festive season

While Christmas can be the most wonderful time of the year for some people, for others it can also be extremely stressful. Especially for families in conflict.

Jane Robey our CEO provides some insight into how to manage a family fallout during the holiday period.

It is incredibly difficult to navigate family disputes at the best of times, but it can be particularly hard when you fall out with a loved one over the festive period.

Sadly though, it’s not uncommon for the tensions that have built up over the year to come to a head at Christmas.

So, what should you do when the argument first breaks out? Jane says: “At the start of any argument it is important that both parties feel heard, so take the time to listen as well as speak. Both points of view are equally valid – whether you like it or not – and simply shouting each other down will not resolve anything.”

“If the argument has been brewing for a while, if at all possible, try to get together to discuss the root cause of the disagreement before coming together at Christmas. Even if you don’t manage to resolve things, it may be that you can agree to disagree, and it could help to stop things escalating over the dinner table.”

But what if the argument escalates? What are the next steps, and how can you go about managing a reconciliation?

“If an argument breaks out at a family gathering it can be very uncomfortable and upsetting not only for those involved but also for the others around them,” Jane explains.

“Again, try to say your piece and listen in equal measure in a bid to bring the bickering to an end, and where necessary simply agree to disagree.

“If the dispute is more serious however, that might not be possible. If it becomes apparent that things are escalating simply remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible, and suggest getting together on another day, at another time, to work things out.

“At that stage, you might want to consider family mediation which can prove very effective in helping to resolve disputes and conflict as amicably as possible. Sometimes when you are in the thick of a fight it’s hard to see the other person’s point of view, but mediators are trained to help you navigate those difficulties.

“Families who want to take advantage of this approach can also claim up to £500 through the government mediation voucher scheme for matters relating to children. Legal Aid also remains available for family mediation.”

But what should you do if something unforgivable has happened? 

Jane added: “One person’s ‘unforgivable’ is often different to someone else’s, but if there truly is no overcoming whatever has happened you might need to consider going your separate ways. However, if that is the necessary outcome, you will also need to take into consideration what that means for other members of the family.

“For example, if you simply can’t bear to spend time with your mother-in-law in the future, that doesn’t mean that the grandchildren or your partner should also be forced to sever ties. Likewise, if the fallout is also going to result in a separation or divorce, how will that impact the children?

“Again, mediation could provide a good solution here as it focuses very much on making decisions for the future that enable you to move on with your lives in the most amicable way possible, without necessarily focusing on the hurt and heartache that has gone before.”

What should you do if members of the family are speaking to others about the argument, but only telling their side? For example, if you’re worried rumours / lies are being spread about you either on social media or at gatherings?

Jane says that family gossip is one of the most common issues featured in family mediation. She said: “It’s horrible and hurtful to think that someone is talking about you behind your back, and it can be incredibly difficult not to get dragged into a ‘he said, she said’ situation. However, while you cannot control the actions of others, you can control how you behave.”

“Try to remain true to your own values and integrity. People will soon see through the rumours and the poor behaviour of those that are fuelling the gossip.”

Jane added: “Christmas is a notorious pressure cooker for families, and the added stresses of the cost-of-living crisis and fuel insecurity are heaping on more and more stress. If you know you are going to struggle to manage some conflict with family members, make a pact with yourself to put it in a separate box over the festive period, and instead commit to dealing with it in a grownup fashion in early 2023.”

Mediation reduces the conflict in separation, divorce or dissolution of civil partnership. It is also more cost-effective and quicker than using lawyers to negotiate, or using the court process. It also enables people to make their own arrangements for children, property and finance. Our mediators are trained in all aspects of family law.

Mediation is NOT about keeping couples together. Instead, it aims to help empower them to make the right long-term solutions when they have decided to separate or divorce. Watch a video about mediation here.

Click here to book an appointment with a family mediator.

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