5 ways to handle holiday stress with cooperation, not compromise

You can cooperate without having to compromise!

During the Holiday Season, we all face numerous decisions and conflicts about managing the holidays together. You may think the best way to solve the problem is through compromise, but when two people compromise, both are still unhappy; if one person in a couple is unhappy, the couple is not happy. There is another way: You can cooperate without having to compromise. 

Cooperation is a skill that can be learned and improved, once you have the right mindset. That mindset is commitment to the relationship, and cooperation is commitment in action.

Do you have these issues to deal with over the holidays?

1. Whose family should you visit? Start by creating a common goal.

Many couples compromise by alternating years at their respective families, often leaving one or the other feeling a loss. Start by creating a common goal, such as “We enjoy the holidays together.” When you are present to your joint goal, you can work together on it more effectively as a team. Say your proclamation every day, even when you don’t feel like you’re getting everything you want, and remember what is most important—your relationship. One couple with small children avoided traveling by inviting everyone to their house for Christmas. They had the best Christmas ever.

2. How can you deal with your in-laws? Be honest but respectful.

One person may agree to something the other wants, but not really mean it. You may be afraid to disappoint your partner or feel you are being selfish. Your body language and tone of voice will reflect this. Pay attention to them and consider what may really be going on.  Don’t be afraid to make clear requests about what you feel or want. You may not always get what you want, but as the Rolling Stones say, “you find you get what you need.” You may have agreed to have your in-laws visit for the holidays but not really want them to stay at your house. Share that with your partner and come up with some alternatives, such as having them stay at a nearby hotel or sibling’s house.

3. Who’s going to cook the turkey for dinner? Be flexible about roles and expectations.

If you are feeling pressured to do something you don’t want to, look to see if you are stuck in a particular role for yourself or your partner. One couple was in conflict about doing anything for Thanksgiving dinner, because the wife did not want to make a turkey again as she had every year. They agreed that the husband would make the turkey, and she would prepare the side dishes. Both of them enjoyed their roles and their dinner more than ever.

4. How are you going to shed the weight you gain over the holidays? Look for another option that you haven’t thought of yet.

Don’t settle for a compromise solution which involves giving something up. Instead, be creative and make something up! Keep brainstorming until you find something that truly satisfies both of you. It is often something neither of you had thought of before. It even works for weight loss! One couple was upset about their weight gain, but could not agree on how to handle the food they bought for the house. Nothing worked until they came up with the idea to go to Weight Watchers together and be weighed only as a couple. They stopped blaming each other and both lost weight.

5. How can you stay organized and connected when you’re feeling overwhelmed? Follow up – review what you have accomplished, and acknowledge each other for your contribution and cooperation.

For cooperation to work, you must both say what you will do and then actually do it. That does not mean that you may never break a commitment, but it does mean that you communicate about it and take responsibility for your behavior. When your partner does what they said they would do, make sure to acknowledge them for their contribution.  Showing appreciation does not cost anything, but we are often stingy about expressing it. Besides, what you reinforce is likely to reoccur! Celebrate your joint accomplishment together with a special present or event. This is your victory dance! Enjoy it.

The fruits of success of cooperation are not just accomplishment, but satisfaction about working together effectively as a team to survive or do something important. This satisfaction comes from a feeling of team spirit or chemistry. This kind of feeling goes beyond compromise. Cooperation may mean giving, but not giving in. It requires trust and hard work as a team focused on a common goal. Committed couples who cooperate do so not just as two individuals but as a third force, an entity called “Couple”. The actions taken as a team are greater than the sum of the parts, enabling a win-win for both partners.

Cooperation skills can be learned, and once learned, can be improved with practice. Once you have this skill, you will want to find reasons and places to use it. It builds the satisfaction necessary for lifelong love, and when problems arise you can say, “We have dealt effectively with many things like this before!”

Once commitment is unquestioned, practicing cooperation helps to keep Couple going… With cooperation, you can take on anything together, knowing that you can do it and supporting each other in making it work. If cooperation is added to the mix, what may have started out as incompatibilities… may turn out to be diversity and versatility… Lifelong love needs to be fun, and it can be when you cooperate. (From Lifelong Love, Harlequin, 2012.)

Phyllis Koch-Sheras, PhD, and Peter Sheras, PhD, married for nearly 40 years, are licensed clinical psychologists practicing in Charlottesville, Virginia. Their most recent book is LIFELONG LOVE: 4 STEPS TO CREATING AND MAINTAINING AN EXTRAORDINARY RELATIONSHIP (Harlequin, 2012). Learn cooperation skills for your relationship by contacting Phyllis and Peter through their website at www.couplepower.com.