Want to avoid relationship and family stress this holiday season?
‘Tis the season to be jolly, love thy neighbor and everything else that's sweet, kind and angelic. ‘Tis also the season to bicker with spouses, dread family gatherings, and dream of the day your kids go back to school.
For better or worse, many of us find the holiday season magical and exhausting, exciting and draining, a time of treasured togetherness and yearned-for solitude. So check out these 3 tips to keep your relationship and your family warm and fuzzy—instead of fried and fuming—through the end of the year.
Tip #1: Remember that what's yours is ours. There's nothing like spending time with extended family, especially your spouse's family of origin, to trigger finger-pointing: "She's your mother, so tell her to her stop criticizing me," or "He's your brother, so make him slow down on the booze, especially in front of the kids." As enticing as it is to assume our beloved's family isn't really ours, not really, once we're committed to our loved one, whatever baggage we bring into our relationship—in-laws included—is ours to deal with together. Plus, if you've got children, that's Grandma and Uncle Bill you're dissing, so stop pointing fingers and either collaborate with your spouse to come up with a solution together, or just leave the criticisms and eye-rolling at home.
Tip #2: Take an affection time-out. Forget time-outs as punishment; opt for a five minute time-out with your spouse to physically reconnect. The holidays are often so jam-packed with responsibilities and events that we literally lose physical contact with our spouses. When that connection decreases—I'm talking holding hands and kissing, not just full-on sex—we experience more stress and strain individually and as a couple. Set your phone timer for 5 minutes, grab your main squeeze by the arm, and haul off to a quiet place—a locked bathroom or even a closet if need be—and smooch, play footsie, hug, or do any other kind of touching that feels oh-so-good.
Tip #3: Stop dueling with your traditions. Whether celebrating your first holiday together, or your fifteenth, if you were raised in different families, or in my case in different countries and different religions, you're bound to disagree on some holiday traditions. Unfortunately, disagreeing can turn into jockeying for position, which also ends up ruining everyone's beloved rituals. So instead of vying to make sure your traditions occupy center stage, get curious. Ask your spouse: What's important to you about doing that, or saying that, or cooking that (or whatever it is you're not agreeing on)? And share with him what’s important to you about your approach.
One more thing: "It's important to me because we've always done it that way" might be true, but it's not a helpful response. Consider: What's important to you about continuing to do it that way? What does it offer you? What do you believe it offers our family? Answer those questions and then you'll get somewhere!
Bonus Tip #4: Hoping to stay connected to your kids, too, this holiday season? Sit down together as a family—I know, I know, I'm asking a lot—and draft a Holiday Famifesto. Ask each person to write down 3 things you want to experience as a family this holiday season. I mean stuff like: affection (see Tip #2), great food, silliness, less arguing than usual, a snowball fight, etc. The goal is to take one of the items mentioned by someone else and do your best to gift them that experience. Whether only one, or all of you, opts to participate, expanding gift giving from what you buy to the experiences you create, serves your family well.
Don't have time for all of these tips? Pick the one you're most likely to do and put it on your calendar. Your relationship will thank you.
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