Relationship Conflicts: When It’s Family vs. Partner at Holiday Gatherings

Couple in love standing back to back ignoring each other

Do the holidays back you into a corner, forcing you to “choose sides” between your partner and one or more family members?

Is there a constant tension beneath all the hugs and smiles: your partner vs. your family?

Maybe it’s a general attitude, or perhaps the conflict is over a specific issue: differing opinions about a “bad” choice someone made – or perhaps an unforgiven incident from years ago, kept vigilantly, resentfully alive…

Or – maybe it’s a new conflict, specially manufactured just for the holidays this year!

Either way, somebody’s going to be mad at you, right? Either your partner or your family member(s)… and now the seasonal gathering means you must suffer through personality conflicts, pervasive nitpicking, and grudge-holding…through casual rudeness and insensitivity…and gaslighting, and disrespect.

OK, time to break through all that crap and enjoy your holidays -and here’s how:

Until now, you have made a choice: either you have defended your partner when family “go against” him or her, which makes you a “traitor” to the family that raised you…or…you take your family’s side, which leaves your partner feeling criticized and abandoned.

Well here’s some good news: you really don’t have to choose sides – even if you have an opinion that one “side” or the other is “right” – you can still give your love and support to all, without anyone feeling like you have turned against them – without anyone feeling devalued or disrespected.

But even more importantly: you SHOULD NOT choose sides. Again, I don’t mean that you shouldn’t have an opinion. You should feel free to have your opinion and to share it: but when you do, neither your partner, nor your family – no one – should feel judged or criticized or disrespected. Even if you feel strongly that one side or another is “right.”

The way to navigate this successfully is to BE TRUE TO THE SITUATION!

What does that mean? Two things: one regarding your partner, and the other regarding your family.

Concerning your partner: you are with them because you respect them, and like them – and of course, love them – or else, why are you with them? And why are you bringing them to be among your family? You have chosen them – they are a life choice you have made – an extension of yourself.

So if you don’t support them, then you are not being true to the situation.

You don’t have to be with them, right? But if you choose to, the whole point is to support them and care for their heart. If your family are not respecting your partner, they are not respecting you either. So if you allow your partner to be hung out to dry – if you align with your family against them by making them an emotional opponent – then you are also dishonoring yourself.

The same is true if you want to collude with your partner against your family – but it gets a little more complicated there – because you don’t choose your family. So your family might actually have some people you don’t really want to be around – but have to. (That is actually a form of being true to that situation – showing them the respect of your presence – unless they have been truly heinous, in which case, sure stay away – but otherwise:) even if you have unresolved painful emotions around your family, it is not right or fair to disrespect them by triangulating with your partner “against” them – after all, the very problem you have with them is that you feel they have not honored or respected you.

The two of you can talk about your family all you want when you get back home – but you while you are choosing to be in their presence, you owe them respectful treatment – or else, again, simply leave.

So what do you do when you become aware that there is tension between your partner and one or more family members?

You simply make it clear that you will not disrespect anyone. You can care about the feelings: very simply: “I care about how you feel.” You don’t have to believe someone is right to care about their pain.

And you can choose sides – but when you do so, it is in the spirit of care and generosity, of accepting everyone’s limitations, whether you perceive them as being stupid or shallow or neurotic or weird or defensive or anything else – you don’t devalue them as human beings, but rather accept them as broken people doing their best – as we all are.

Let them rant and rave, or wheel and deal in emotional drama. All you ever have to say is: “I see how upset you are. I don’t want you to feel that way.”

And if you disagree with someone who is trying to make another look bad, then say, with calm self-self-knowledge, “I disagree.” (without anger, and not needing to say more) Or, if you agree, “I support you. I am here for you.” But either way, you are creating a moment of truthfulness, not fanning the flames of drama.

When you go to such an event, it is your responsibility to make peace with the fact that you are choosing to be there, and you are choosing to bring your partner. Your only purpose is to explore where the greatest amount of love exists in that setting. Love is always the healer. And often, love simply means being kind.

You can always share your truth – but with love and honor for all. This is how you experience your own true power, and how you most deeply honor and respect yourself.

Ray Rivers

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