Sonya Thomas lcsw

Navigating the Holidays

Lucky you if you and your partner have a mutually agreed upon and satisfactory plan on how, where and with whom to spend the holidays.  For many couples, mapping out a holiday plan is a source of frustration, conflict, and resentment.  While there may not be a perfect solution that leaves everyone 100% happy, here are some points to consider when tackling this sometimes-thorny issue:

  • You don’t have to please everyone. So many holiday plans go down in flames because you try to make everyone happy.  When family is spread out over different parts of the country, or there are step and extended families who desire (or expect) your presence, or when you are being asked to shoulder a disproportionate load in creating the festivities, you may have to accept that you are not going to be able to please everyone.
  • You can say no. You should say no. No is good.  Given the complexity and pressure surrounding contemporary holidays, I can predict that for every “no” you say to someone; your stress level will decline. Between church pageants, school concerts, office parties, cookie swaps, shopping, baking, wrapping . . . there will be plenty of opportunities for you to say no.  Nothing can ruin your holiday spirit faster than saying yes to a whole bunch of people, running around like crazy, spreading yourself too thin, exhausting yourself, and basically unraveling into a frazzled mess.
  • You can buy yourself a lot of freedom if you have a good excuse. I’ve found that a lot of times we get ourselves in over our head because we don’t take the time to come up with a good excuse. What is a good excuse?  It is short, sweet and not too detailed.  A simple “we promised ourselves that in order to preserve our sanity, we are going to limit our obligations this year.  Let’s get together after everything has settled down.” A good excuse is one that lets both of you off the hook.  And by the way, a good excuse can also be a little white lie. I’ve checked with Santa; a white lie designed to spare another’s feelings won’t put you on his naughty list.
  • Talk to your partner about what is most important to each of you.  Before you lock yourselves into any plans, have a conversation with your partner about what is most important to each of you. Perhaps start with this question: “When the holidays are over, what’s the one thing you want to have had happen?”  Let your plans be driven by what you both care about most. This is a good starting point for figuring out what the top priorities are for each of you.
  • Be flexible, creative and negotiate.  This is fundamental. Before you make any commitments and before you get polarized and angry with each other, try to brainstorm ways that you can both get at least some of your wishes honored. Have a negotiating spirit in which you are committed to give and take on both sides.  Don’t forget to enlarge the frame; maybe you don’t end up with the holiday’s plans that you prefer, but in exchange you get a gift of an all-day package at your favorite spa.  This is creativity in action!
  • Take turns. One of the simplest ways to find a resolution is to take turns. You may have to take it a step further and flip a coin. You won the toss? OK, you get to choose how we spend the holidays this year, and I can’t complain. But next year I get to have the holidays be the way I want, and you can’t complain. When there is simply no easy way to come up with a compromise, this one is a neutral, non-biased approach.  It will require that we have some graciousness when not getting our way.  This is appropriate given that we are adults, not two year olds who believe we are entitled to have everything the way we want it all the time.
  • No character assassinations. Don’t try to convince your partner that his mother, father, sister, brother, best friend from college, etc. are evil and crazy. That will probably not be a winning move. Just focus on how important it is for you to enjoy yourself, even if you have to be around people who may get on your nerves.  This will help you to avoid confrontation. Often in trying to persuade your partner regarding why you should get your way, you end up attacking their friends or relatives. You hope to make a convincing argument, but this almost always blows up in your face.  There will be times that you will be asked to suppress your opinion and go along for the greater good of the relationship.  Holidays are one of those times.

Until next time, Peace.