Family events can be very stressful on relationships. One of the observations I hear most often from people who come into my office has to do with the intensity of emotion that only family can evoke. People are often confused why they might have an easier time having a conversation with a stranger than with their own mother or brother. There are understandable reasons for this.

The closer an individual is to us, the harder it is to maintain a certain persona. How we might present ourselves to a relatively unknown individual versus the ways that we cannot hide with those who know is important. When we are more exposed, depending on our level of comfort with emotion, our anxiety levels can rise. When we feel anxious we are less able to be flexible and responsive, so interactions can feel uncomfortable and possibly forced.

When it comes to intimate relationships, depending on the degree of open communication and understanding, this can lead to discomfort at best or recrimination and blame at worst. Ultimately, what needs to be acknowledged is that the pressure of important moments, such as celebrating the holidays with family, understandably raises the stakes and cannot be compared to the simplicity and anonymity of meeting strangers. When one starts to prioritize being alone because relationships don’t feel good, there are other issues at play.

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