Holiday Celebrations Often Include Family Related Stressors

January 4, 2012
Written by Alonzo Weston in
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National Lampoons Christmas Vacation illustrated the ups and downs of a family gathering during the holiday season. Photo Credit:

You know how it goes if you’ve seen the movie “Christmas Vacation.” Clark Griswold and family are having enough problems buying a Christmas tree and putting up lights. Then, the in-laws show up and increase the stress tenfold.

That 1989 holiday movie favorite is intended to be a comedy. But many a truth is told in jest it’s been said. Visiting In-laws can sometimes add stress to the holidays for many families and it’s not always a laughing matter.

A recent Yahoo survey found that more than 51 percent of respondents admitted lying to avoid spending time with certain relatives over the holidays. And one in five surveyed said their sex life was negatively affected by visiting relatives.

Steve Siebold, author of the book, “177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class,” says part of the problem is seeking acceptance. A son or daughter-in law, wanting to make a good first impression, will often fall into the line of thinking that they can’t say no. They feel they have to have to do everything to please the – in-laws.

He suggests realizing that it’s OK not to be perfect and that you don’t have to give in to every request.

Sheila McNamee, professor of communication at the University of New Hampshire, says there are many reasons why families fight more during the holidays. One of the most common areas of contention are differing values and beliefs.

“All relationships require coordination and negotiation, but for some reason in families, we just expect communication to be easy,” she says. “Until we slow down and really consider what others are doing and saying, we will very likely find ourselves confronting, oppressing, accusing, and demonizing anything that doesn’t concur with our own ways of being.”

McNamee said conflicts also arise when relatives are torn between behaving like the person they see themselves as today and the person relatives remember them being.

“When adult children return home for the holidays, they frequently feel that they are positioned within the family as they were when they were a child,” she says. “The pull of these rituals is so strong and so familiar that we most often feel incapable of changing these patterns.”

McNamee recommends relatives simply take a deep breath and pause in conversation when they feel themselves getting excited or angry in response to each other.

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