Tools for preventing arguments during your family vacation, and productively working through them when they inevitably pop up.
We used to have some of our biggest arguments while traveling. The combination of a foreign environment, fatigue and the free time to think about our issues created combustible situations. Once we became aware of this unfortunate trend, we took steps to reduce its frequency.
Our first step in curtailing the travel arguments was recognizing the conditions that triggered discord, like fatigue and hunger. We then made a pact to hold off on expressing our irritation until we were fed and rested. Often, the seed of the potential argument had disappeared when our bodies and minds had been taken care of.
While the “no arguing when we’re hungry and tired” thing significantly helped, it didn’t end all squabbles. So to minimize the damage done by verbalized discontent we set some ground rules, which were so effective we now use them for all arguments, regardless of location.
1. Stay on topic
An argument about where to eat can easily spiral into bigger, sticker areas that really don’t need to be brought into a discussion about whether to grub at the sandwich shop or local pub. If one of you veers off topic, offer a gentle reminder to come back to the original subject.
2. No name calling
Keeping unkind labels out of our mouths allows conversations to be more civil and less triggering. But this is easier said than done, as it's so easy to let phrases like, "you're so irritating," "you're the worst listener," or "you're selfish" spill out. #3 and #4 will offer tools to help you avoid gut-reaction talking.
3. Stick to “I” statements
When expressing your feelings, prevent finger pointing by starting your sentences with “I” instead of “you.” For example, instead of saying, “You always take forever to get ready in the morning and it’s your fault we’re late,” you could say, “I feel frustrated when it takes us a long time to get out the door in the morning. What could we do to change that?”
In this situation you’re focusing on how a certain circumstance or action makes you feel, instead of labeling or placing blame on the other person. This vocabulary adjustment often leads to a productive conversation, versus an “I want to prove I’m right” battle of the wills.
4. Pausing before responding
The previous suggestions are much easier to implement when you take a pause before responding. Often, when we say the first thing that comes into our mind during a tricky discussion it’s laced with defensiveness.
In addition, it takes an emotion 90-seconds to move through the body. So if something your family member says triggers a burst of anger, count to 90 in your mind before responding. This will feel forced and awkward at first but can save you from saying something you’ll regret.
5. Moving your bodies while talking
Going on a walk during tense discussions can help anger, frustration and other limiting emotions flow out of you. When we stay stagnant, the emotions stay stagnant and seriously limit our ability to move forward - so instead, make yourself physically move forward. In addition, walking in the environment that you worked so hard to get to will likely add a fresh perspective and serenity to your conversation.
Happy fight-free trails y'all!