Some people have families whose members love and value one another almost unconditionally. Family members may have disagreements from time to time and generations may not always understand each other, but the relationships are fundamentally sound and healthy.  Estrangements don’t last for years or decades. People are willing to apologize and forgive.  Bonds in such families are stronger than differences, hurts or disagreements.


However, most of us don’t have completely functional families. Most families contain a mix of healthy and dysfunctional relationships and dynamics.  Of course, some families have more dysfunction than others and some families cycle through periods of strained relationships between various family members that get resolved over time.  Family legacies of strain, estrangement and cut-offs can be passed down through generations or can be of recent origin.  There is a limited amount that any one of us can do to alter these dynamics, but we may potentially have some influence if we are directly involved in those tricky relationships.


Regardless of the degree of healthiness or dysfunction in your family, the holidays almost invariably add heightened intensity to those dynamics. So how do we cope with the complicated issues that confront us and our families as we approach the holidays? The fundamental options we have for dealing with difficult issues and relationships break down into a few different categories:   engagement, avoidance, confrontation, minimization and detachment.  We may employ many of these strategies as we deal with different family members at various times.  Let’s talk about the family issues that we are facing this holiday season and how we are coping, with emphasis on sharing strategies that have worked for us in dealing with difficult situations.



  • How would you characterize and degree of health and dysfunction in your family? Do the areas of dysfunction involve you directly or are you a bystander in the family drama?
  • What are the type of conflicts your family deals with? Are these conflicts historical feuds between parts of the family? hurts and betrayals that have been carried for a long time? or recent hurts or misunderstandings?
  • What strategies have you tried in the past to cope with these awkward or painful situations and how have those strategies worked for you?
  • Have you found some successful ways to cope with family problems during the holidays?
  • Please give examples from your own experience or the experience of others that you believe have been constructive and resulted in positive (or less negative) outcomes?
  • How do you plan to handle the difficult situations and relationships in your own family during this holiday season?