Mon, Feb. 24

Marta Adelsman Column: Joy of Christmas communication

‘Tis the season when families come together around the Christmas tree and the dinner table. That means it’s time for me once again to share with you some tips about how to make your family communication the best ever.

I know many people who anticipate their Christmas gatherings as a time of connecting and joy. Yet they also dread the family drama that will inevitably arise. Here are some ways to make your holiday communication go smoothly.

1) Start by setting your intentions, prior to the gathering, for how you want the family communication to go. Write down your expectations. For example, “I intend for us to laugh a lot.” “I intend to get along with Aunt Matilda.” “I will have a heart-to-heart conversation with my brother.” “I will take it in stride if I don’t get my way.”

2) Take responsibility for seeing that your expectations are met. Laugh a lot yourself. Initiate discussions. And if you become hurt or “hooked” by the actions or utterances of others, instead of blaming them, take responsibility for your feelings.

3) Withdraw your projections. Doing so most powerfully allows you to take responsibility for your own reactions. Human nature dictates that, when you don’t want to look at something within yourself, you project it outside of you onto someone else. The easiest targets for your projections happen to be family members!

To take back your projections, first acknowledge to yourself, “My reaction is about me, and it has nothing to do with Aunt Matilda.” It’s valuable information for what you need to change. That way, your reaction does not become the fuel for holding a grudge against Aunt Matilda.

I become indignant when I perceive that one of my sons criticizes me. So I withdraw the projection by asking myself, “How do I criticize?”

When I take a look, I see that my version has to do with self-criticism. I can now observe and change how I engage in self-critical thoughts. I no longer have a need to hold my son responsible for my reaction. I can now relate to him cleanly with no blocks in the way.

4) Check out your assumptions. Assuming that others have hurtful or vengeful motives causes a majority of communication snafus. To check out my perception of my son’s criticism, I could say, “What you just said sounded critical to me. Was that your intention?”

Keep in mind that, when others treat you with contempt, anger, derision, criticism, or put-downs, they hold those attitudes toward themselves. Have compassion for them.

Changing family communication can be like turning around an ocean liner that weighs several tons. It takes many years, even generations, to establish patterns that don’t serve. So be patient with yourself and your loved ones as you practice turning around your own ship. Others may follow suit!

Have the Merriest Christmas and Happiest Holiday communication ever!

For affordable communication coaching, contact Dr. Marta at (928) 451-9482 or

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