Don't assume your spouse wants to celebrate the Holidays the same way you do.
"I can't believe you don't want to fruit cake at Aunt Martha's!"
"But we ALWAYS go to the church's Messiah Sing-along! I already made plans for the kids and I to go!"
"I understand you're Jewish sweetheart, but I didn't think that meant you wouldn't want us to have a Christmas tree."
It's the first of December, the first night of Hanukkah and the first week of Advent--the Holiday Season is definitely upon us! And with the Holidays come expectations and stress that can tear a couple apart even when things are great between them; having a new ex-spouse or being separated due to infidelity just makes it worse. So how's a couple supposed to survive the season and still love each other once the New Year comes?
The first thing I would remind the readers is that LOVE is a verb--it's an action not a feeling. So the very first thing you have to remember with your kids and your spouse, even if you are separated, is that love is how you treat someone--you behave in a loving way. So if you would like to feel the love this Holiday Season, start and set the pace by BEING loving!
The second thing to remember is that whether you two are together and "in love", together but strained, separated, or just recently divorced, you two are both individuals and both have your own ideas about the right way to celebrate the holidays. Her ideas and expectations are just as valid as yours are--his hopes and plans carry equal weight to yours. So be aware that you two MAY not celebrate in the exact same way, know that you may not have the same expectations, and acknowledge that both partners' plans are equal--and agree early in the season to reach a mutual understanding about celebrations and plans.
Whether you and your spouse are living together or apart, arrange to meet over coffee and dessert, and discuss how you will be celebrating the Holidays.
1. Use the W-T-F-S technique to ask for what you'd like. Let them likewise use W-T-F-S to ask for what they would like. If you don't know, the W-T-F-S technique is "When you... I Think... I Feel... So I'd like to request..." Then give your spouse the freedom to say the are not willing to do what you request, but then they should offer an option that would work for them. Likewise you would then be free to say "No" also, but you'd have to suggest a compromise that would be okay with you.
"When you..." identifies the behavior that is at issue, so maybe you could say "When you make Holiday plans without even consulting me..."
"I Think..." details the thoughts in your head when the behavior takes place, and someone of a Thinker Myers-Briggs personality type will identify with this part the most. It's also an opportunity to be transparent and share the True You. Maybe you could say, "...I think it is really disrespectful to me and is controlling..."
"I Feel..." itemizes how you feel when the behavior takes place, and someone of a Feeler Myers-Brigs personality type will identify with this part the most Again, it's a chance to be transparent, but also if you're not a natural Feeler, to learn to name the emotions. "...and I feel angry, sad and depressed--like I'm of little value."
"So I'd like to request..." states right out loud for your partner what you would respectfully request so it's not a "hint" and they don't have to figure it out...just tell them right out loud what would fix it for you! So you might say "So I'd like to request that you take Christmas Eve and I take Christmas Day" or whatever would work for you. Also, please not you are being respectful and making a request, not a commandment or "making" them do anything!
2. Be fair and hear them out. This part is pretty hard to do, especially when it sounds like they want to stop doing a tradition that you hold dear, but in the same way that you don't want your own Holiday dictated by someone else, they don't either! So enter the negotiations with an open mind, and after they have said what they want, repeat it back to them in your own words to be sure you understand what they suggested. Clarify. Ask questions to find out intentions. And you learned it in kindergarten--be fair!
3. Reach a mutual understanding about which you can both be enthusiastic. One of the biggest mistakes people make in a marriage is when one spouse or the other will "give in" thinking that it will be their turn next time. So they agree...and their spouse thinks they were really, genuinely agreeing! So it is your responsibility to not agree until you hear a solution and think, "Yeah I think that would be okay actually!" And if your spouse reluctantly says "alright I suppose," don't just assume they agree--keep working until they are enthusiastic in their agreement and it's truly Okay with them. From the beginning have the agreement between you that you will both be as fair as possible and you will not quit until you have an understanding between you two, and you are both enthusiastic about the solution. If you two just can not hit an agreement, and it seems like you two are both getting more and more and more stubborn--maybe you can agree on someone you both trust, and agree to both go tell him/her both sides and whatever they suggest, you'll abide by that decision.
By acknowledging that your spouse may not celebrate the holidays the same way that you do and agreeing to work together on a mutual understanding, you can take some of the stress out of the Holiday Season and focus on the loving and giving!