If your holiday behavior is historically a flashpoint for fighting between you and your spouse, consider showing up differently this year. Talk about planned holiday visits with their extended family ahead of time. Instead of complaining about your annoying in-laws, ask your spouse how you could be different this year.
Be nicer to annoying Aunt Alice? Stop needling drunk Uncle Phil? A frank discussion ahead of time about how this holiday season could be less stressful for your partner can be a thoughtful and welcome way to show love and appreciation to your spouse.
Consider celebrating with your extended family even if you don’t feel like it. Chronic dysfunctional family patterns may cause predictable, but unnecessary stress. When you visit extended family during the holidays, notice any negative thoughts or feelings that lurk underneath a sense of obligation. Take yourself on around your unresolved old family resentments.
Make an attempt to notice the good qualities in your otherwise annoying relatives. Admire your grumpy brother-in-law’s sweater, or tell your goofy sister-in-law Mary, that you admire her ability to be funny and over the top. Accentuating the positive can not only contribute to someone else’s happiness, but it may also raise your own mood and relieve tension.
Acquire an attitude of gratitude. Focus on fun and good times. Try to get out of your negative headspace for a change.
Remember you are also modeling for your kids. It isn’t all about you. Show up.. don’t blow up.
Holiday rules mean suck it up. Put on your happy face, after all, it’s the holidays. Make a deliberate effort to put your best self forward for a change. Research tells us that the act of deliberately smiling (sincere or otherwise), can actually increase your serotonin and dopamine, the essential neurochemical building blocks for happiness.
Holiday rules mean thinking and planning ahead. Work with your partner to prep your kids on how to behave. On the other hand, it’s also important to remember that kids are not adults. You don’t want to shame or blame them. You want them to do what you’re also trying to do; putting your best self forward to your extended family with courtesy and respect.
Work with your significant other to give your kids fresh options. Plan activities ahead of time to keep boredom at bay, and encourage them to play nice.
Holiday rules mean that if you become annoyed, roll with it. Ignore what you can. If you need to deal with something or someone unpleasant, express your thoughts and feelings calmly without blaming or shaming. You may not always get a enlightened response, but you always have the choice to show love and respect. Set a good example. Encourage everyone to be their best selves.
If you have the task of gift giving, put a little more thought into how you would like to be different. Follow the rules of your host regarding gifting. Spend the appropriate amount of money on each gift, (don’t insult by regifting, etc.) and try to exercise some thought on the appropriateness of the gift as well.
If you gift from the heart, you really can’t go wrong. If you’re thoughtful and mean well, it doesn’t matter what your extended family thinks. Try not to take snide remarks from problem relations too seriously.
If you don’t have the task, help your partner think through appropriate gifting decisions ahead of time. Too many partners (especially husbands) leave their spouses high and dry with all the social responsibilities and gifting chores around holiday gatherings.
Imagine your partner thanking you for the extra effort you took with Aunt Alice and Uncle Phil. A little mindfulness can make your Christmas merrier. Courtesy and respect are the ornaments of a happy and connected marriage.
Stop indulging your annoyance, and tell your partner you want them to have the best holiday ever!
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.
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