9 Tips to Reduce Family Conflicts During the Holidays

I’m reaching out to all of you who have troubled family relationships during the holidays.

Maybe family members act more like frozen icicles than warm comforting blankets. Perhaps cutting words feel like daggers that pierce your soul. Maybe your mother still treats you like a 12-year-old. That hurts all the time, but especially during the holidays.

Attachment theory tells us that human beings need emotional responsiveness from loved ones to feel safe. We need to feel safe before we can open our hearts. We need to feel safe before we feel like being playful.

We need family members to show us that they care about our feelings. We need to feel safe before we can share what’s really going on inside. Guess what? So do they.

Many of us feel like we need to guard our hearts because our loved ones haven’t learned how to have caring conversations. It’s only natural to want to protect ourselves. Our family members probably feel that way, too.

What can you do to help yourself feel safe and stay more centered during the holidays?  

See if you are willing to try any of these nine things. 

When your family members do things that trigger you, use the tools below to calm your over-aroused nervous system. Return yourself to the zone of resilience. We call this self-regulation.

1. Focus your intentions. Your number one agenda is to stay centered. If you’re not centered, it’s unlikely that you’ll express yourself in a way that will draw others toward you.

2. Monitor your stress levels. Don’t let the stress get too big. Ask yourself: What do I feel in my body? Notice when you are beginning to get overwhelmed. Maybe your chest is tight. Maybe you get a lump in your throat. Maybe you get teary. Maybe you clench your jaws. Maybe your muscles tighten up. Maybe your gut churns. Maybe you get a headache. Maybe your voice gets tense and stern. Maybe you want to distance yourself. All these are common indications that your nervous system is feeling threatened because you don’t feel safe with your tribe. That’s normal and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. What do you feel in your emotions? Hurt, sad, shame or fear? Does your anger cover up any of these other feelings? Be compassionate with yourself. Remember, you are only human.

3. Breathe deeply. Remember a time when you felt peaceful. Maybe you remember walking along the beach hearing the sound of ocean waves and watching the foam recede from the shore. I remember the time when I was meditating under a giant old oak tree on my university campus while my boyfriend held me in his arms. Polyvagal theory tells us that when we exhale longer than we inhale, we calm down. Try this breathing method: inhale to the count of four. Hold to the count of four. Exhale to the count of eight. You can do this any time, anywhere.

4. Take a time-out to self-soothe. What if you can’t calm down in the midst of a family gathering? Go to the bathroom or take a walk outside to do your deep breathing. Get some physical exercise. Listen to soothing music. Meditate.

5. Ground yourself in your environment. Look around you. Name five things you see. Name five things you hear. Name five things you touch. Name three things you smell. Taste something and pay attention to your taste buds. This grounds you in your body and reduces anxiety. Again, you can do this any time, anywhere.

6. Set a time limit. In a high-conflict situation, you can tell your family ahead of time how long you plan to stay. Maybe it’s only an hour or two at a time. Take care of yourself while you show them that you care about them.

7. Express your love and appreciation. When we have intensely uncomfortable feelings, it may be difficult to think of anything positive. That’s because our brain is in a defensive mode trying to protect us from what it perceives as a threat. Not being securely attached with loved ones feels like a threat to us because we are bonding mammals. When you realize that your brain feels threatened, you can be more objective and compassionate with yourself and others. You can ask yourself, “Am I really in danger?” If not, you can do your self-soothing skills and calm down. Then focus on what you appreciate. When you express it in a genuine way with warmth in your eyes, you’ll be doing your part to co-create healthier interactions. Others may feel less threatened if you take this first step.

8. Ask for spiritual guidance. Your spiritual connection is your ultimate way to feel safe and secure even when your family members can’t return love to you. Spend time communing with God. Ask for your heart to be filled with God’s love. Breathe it in and soak in it. As you make the secure attachment with God your primary focus, you’ll be better prepared to share the divine love with your family. You can let it flow through you to them. Remember, you don’t have to handle this situation alone. You have a heavenly partner all the time. Ask and receive. Let in the comforting unconditional love of God.

9. See if you are willing to have a heart-to-heart conversation instead of staying on the surface. Maybe you are ready for this. Maybe you’re not. This is an advanced skill and I’ll be happy to coach you on this if you would like. (Send me an email from my Contact Page
and I’ll schedule a complimentary 10-minute call with you.)

Maybe you’ll hear God whisper in your ear, “This is the time. Now. Go talk to your father.” Maybe you decide to take the risk to reach out and say, “Would you be willing to have a private chat with me? I’d like to repair our relationship because it … and you … are so important to me. Is this a good time, or can we arrange another time?” If your voice expresses warmth and your eyes show sincerity, you may be surprised to hear, “Sure, let me finish cleaning up and I’ll join you in five minutes.”

Remember: We are either expressing love or making a call for love. Try to see yourself and your family the way God sees you.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Joyful Kwanzaa. May you and your family be blessed with the renewal of love this season.


Author: Benita A. Esposito, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor
Click here for crededntials.

If you would like help to increase your ability to stay centered and repair family relationships, please email me via the Contact Page. I’ll respond to you within 24 hours Monday-Thursday except holidays.


Happy Wife, Happy Life

I’m writing to men here. But if you are a woman who is married, dating or engaged, you’ll probably want to read this, too. Give him a gentle nudge to read it.

Have you been wondering what to get your wife (or special lady) for Christmas that will create lasting happiness and not fizzle out after a week or two?

Have you tried to make your wife happy, but you feel like whatever you do, it’s not quite enough?

Have you wondered, “How can I encourage my wife to be more interested in intimacy?”

You probably know the phrase “Happy wife, happy life.”

Well, I’d like to help you figure out how to help your wife feel happier a lot more of the time. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?

First, let’s take a look at what you may have tried that doesn’t work to create lasting happiness.

You decide to buy her a special piece of jewelry. That is so thoughtful. She loves it, but the same old conflicts begin again after the holidays are over.

You get her a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day. That tells her that you are thinking of her, right?  Right. But the endorphin high from the feel-good chocolate is only temporary. Plus, she puts on a couple more pounds and she isn’t happy about that.

You give her a beautiful bouquet of flowers. That’s lovely. But after the flowers fade, it’s back to same ole’ same old.

Maybe you decide that it’s finally time to spend money on a cruise. That ought to work, right? Your heart’s in the right place. Now you are really letting her know that you love her.

But a few weeks after the vacation you discover that didn’t create lasting change either. Maybe she went back to distancing from you. Or maybe she’s still unhappy and critical. Or perhaps she prefers to spend time with her friends.

What on earth will it take to make her truly happy? You feel exasperated. You hate fighting because you know that it doesn’t help. Maybe you withdraw. But you haven’t given up.

Remember the movie, What Women Want, starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt? Mel Gibson plays the role of a high-powered advertising executive who doesn’t know how to cultivate healthy relationships with females …with his own daughter, his romantic partner, his co-workers or his female clients. Through a freak accident, he develops the ability to hear women’s thoughts and feelings. Finally, he can understand what women want, and what he is doing to offend them.

What women really want is for men to listen and understand them. They want you to be emotionally present with them.

That may be hard for you to do, especially when they are upset with you.

I get it. That is hard.

If you keep trying to show your love with gifts and being nice, but she doesn’t feel that you are genuinely connecting with her, she’s not likely to warm up to you in bed. Or any other time for that matter.

All the cruises, vacations, chocolates and jewelry can’t take the place of real emotional connection.

Happy wife, happy life. That’s what you want, right?

Don’t keep waiting, hoping time will heal. Time does nothing. Small unresolved conflicts snowball into mountains if they are not repaired.

I’ll help you get what you want. It can be a lot easier than you imagine … when you learn the right things to do to create lasting happiness in your marriage.

Here’s an easy way to get started.

Give your wife a Christmas gift of the Valentine’s Retreat on February 15, 2020.

Early birds receive $100 off when you register by December 31, 2019.

Dedicate 2020 as the year of “Happy Wife, Happy Life.”

*    You’ll learn the five most destructive behaviors that predict divorce with 93% accuracy.

*    You’ll learn how to cultivate a vibrant relationship that lasts forever. No more temporary quick-fixes that end up wasting your time and money.

*    You’ll walk away with a clear step-by-step process that you can use at home immediately.

This retreat is based on Dr. John Gottman’s 40 years of psychological research on what makes masters and disasters of marriage.

–> Click here to read all about the Valentine’s Retreat.

About the Facilitator

Benita A. Esposito is a Licensed Professional Counselor28_Benita 163KB with a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology.

I have practiced psychotherapy for 4 decades, helping individuals and couples in private sessions, groups and intensive retreats. I love the retreats best because so much transformation occurs in such a short time. I like results!

Click here to complete the Contact Form to schedule a complimentary 10-minute phone interview to see if this event is a good fit for you.

Private sessions are also available for individuals and couples.