Our busy lives can make it more challenging for us to sit down and eat a family meal together. Finding the time isn't always easy. The family dinner doesn't just allow us all to be present and together and fill our stomach, it provides the opportunity to talk, share, laugh and check-in; it nurtures our family spirit, feeds our mind and improves overall health.
Research shows that enjoying family meals together lowers our children’s risk of depression and suicidal thoughts. Our kids are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and generally display healthier prosocial behaviour and are less likely to be overweight.
What happens though when our family meal is conflictual, family members argue, and the experience is tense and antagonising. Remember the old lessons from our childhood, it takes two to argue, this remains correct. Sure, we can have one family member being obtrusive or mean, however, this does not give us a free pass to be the same back. Usually within a family someone starts setting a different standard before others follow. It is often about learning better ways to manage conflict.
In my new book Communication Harmony, I speak about the three secret words to diffuse and eliminate all conflict from every conversation. Once learned, you never need to argue with anyone again. For those who haven’t yet had the opportunity to discover these words there are things you can do to prevent that deterioration of conversation, especially at this time of year.
Normally we may be aware of who seems to enjoy arguing. The normal response when we feel attacked is defence. We tell them firmly they are wrong or unreasonable which in turn escalates a person who is after a dispute. Any conflict at meal time interrupts our digestive process leaving us with an uncomfortable stomach, heartburn or undigested food.
Tips to diffuse any argument from meal time:
- Smile at the person who may be negative or argumentative and disassociate from their words – understand their words are directed to get a reaction from you, don’t. Just smile, take a breath and turn to someone else and speak about a completely different topic.
- Never defend yourself - let them know their words are ‘interesting’ that you may consider them later as you turn to speak about other things to other people. This validates the attacking person and dismisses them at the same time.
- Ask about them and what they think and feel – often that argumentative family member is ignored so we all feel safer. Include them in a conversation, ask for their input and comment on their thoughts and opinions on certain topics. Regardless if you agree or not, thank them for sharing their thoughts before either complimenting them, or disregarding what they may have said.
- Never get into a heated discussion, it never ends well – if it is something you feel the urge to respond to, simply ask for validation of the reason they feel as they do. It may be a valid reason for them, just not for you or others. Just because someone disagrees with us or has a different opinion, it doesn’t necessarily make them wrong, only different.
Always a Reason
When anyone is regularly argumentative or conflictual, there is always a reason, even if you don’t yet know it. Perhaps they may have a self-esteem issue and need to feel heard and the only way they seek attention is by conflict. This occurs far more often than most of us realise. None of us normally get up in the morning and say to our self “I am just going to be mean and nasty to everyone today, I am just going to cause fights”. No, we don’t do that. Challenge yourself to see if you can discover the reason this person does or says as they do. It removes the personal from any harsh words and can make the meal more pleasant and tolerable.
About Dr Karen Phillip
Dr Karen Phillip has been a Counselling Psychotherapist for almost two decades, and a professional Clinical Hypnotherapist for over 10 years. Karen is an expert in the fields of relationships, parenting and communications and has helped thousands of couples and families resolve problems ranging from communication conflicts to parenting issues. Karen is qualified in many areas and is the family therapist on many television and radio programs. She is an International Author, Key Note Speaker and Trainer. Karen has private rooms and does considerable amount of work over Skype or Zoom working with people from all around the world needing a fast, effective way to correct personal issues, behaviours and relationships. You can find out more about Dr Karen at www.drkarenphillip.com