Isn’t this supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year”?
In a perfect world, maybe. However, life doesn’t always cooperate.
Imagine you spent the past two days preparing a spectacular holiday meal. You are finally ready, waiting for the guests to arrive.
Here are just a few of the possible events that may ensue:
- At the last minute, your brother calls to announce he is bringing a couple of friends.
- You find the cat licking the turkey you cooked for seven hours.
- Then your adolescent son posts pictures of you freaking out on Facebook.
- Your mother-in-law calls and asks you to delay dinner since she is running late.
- One of the kids spills gravy on your new white carpeting.
- Your uncle has too much to drink and tells you how he really feels about you (and it’s not nice).
- Your husband thanks you for dinner and, in his usual thoughtless manner, proceeds downstairs to enjoy the football game, without offering to help clean up.
No family escapes its share of “baggage.” The only variable is the size of the “bag,” and whether you work together with your partner to cope with it.
High stress during the holidays can wreak havoc on relationships. But it can also provide an opportunity to strengthen teamwork, build communication, and deepen connection. Knowingly or unknowingly, we make that choice.
The good news is there are practical steps you can take to turn holiday havoc into holiday harmony.
Achieving harmony starts with planning in a realistic way. That means anticipating and embracing the issues that are ripe for conflict this time of year—communication, financial strain, lack of sex, family alliances, and in-law issues, to mention a few.
Let’s explore some tips and tools that will help you and your partner create a holiday season that strengthens your relationship and brings you closer:
1. Lower Expectations and Plan Ahead
Newsflash: There WILL be too much to do and not enough time. Don’t even think you will be able to get it all done the way you want to, without snags.
Sit with your partner and imagine the memories you want to make this holiday season. Write down what comes to mind. Then get real.
- Create a master to-do list broken down by the tasks that need to get done—buying gifts, food shopping, sending cards, decorating the house.
- Divvy up the tasks and responsibilities according to what you each do best.
- Plan your to-do items by putting them on a calendar. Give yourself deadlines. Build in time for interruptions, a day you don’t feel well, or a day your kids or parents might unexpectedly need you.
- When the to-do item doesn’t get done, immediately reschedule it.
- Remember you can’t do it all. If you have to use Stove Top instead of homemade stuffing, the world will not end.
2. Communicate, Connect, and Coordinate
It’s vital to work as a team. We can’t stress this enough.
- Check in with each other every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes. Share your stressors. Talk about how you feel. When your partner is talking, just listen. Don’t give solutions; give empathy.
- Coordinate any action items. The to-do lists are fluid and will change over time.
- Share a 10-second hug. It’s longer than you think, and it’s a great “quickie connection.”
- When conflict arises over money, time, or decision making, remember everyone’s point of view is legitimate. No one is right or wrong. Hear each other out and compromise. Remember the spirit of the holiday.
3. Build in ‘Holi-Dates’
There is no substitute for uninterrupted time together.
- Schedule some “holi-dates.” If you don’t plan, it won’t happen.
- Have fun. Do something relaxing to get away from the stress.
- Don’t forget about sex. You may be tired, but this is a vital connection for a healthy relationship and a great stress reliever.
- Don’t make excuses. Remember, you WILL be too busy. Do it anyway.
4. Anticipate Family Baggage
You know it’s coming. It happens in every family in some form: drama.
- Predict the drama that may play out. You know who is going to do what based on history. Your dad will want to argue about politics; your mother-in-law will comment on your weight; your cousin will be his usual negative self. Don’t let this catch you off guard. It’s going to happen.
- Observe the drama that plays out. When it starts, catch it, pull back inside your head, and observe it. Tell yourself, “I knew that was going to happen.” This will prevent you from being sucked into it.
- Plan for family situations you can anticipate together with your partner, and agree up front what you will do “if …” Create a signal for “I need to talk to you.” Support each other by listening empathically.
- Set your intention to be respectful and kind to others and each other. Be sensitive to the fact it may hurt when you are critical of your partner’s family; “it’s OK for me to criticize my mom, but it really hurts when you do.”
Build a stress-reducing exercise into your routine, if only for 10 minutes a day. It’s as easy as listening to a short, guided meditation. It will help bring you back to your center so you can get up tomorrow and do it again. Here are some recommended mindfulness websites with free, short meditations:
These tips and tools will work to increase your joy and grow your relationship over the holidays, so take action. Share these tips with your partner and create holiday harmony.
© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lori Hollander LCSW-C, BCD, Relationships and Marriage Topic Expert Contributor
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