Ahhh, the holidays. ‘Tis the season for holiday parties, egg-nog, beautifully wrapped presents and nostalgic Christmas carols. And…’tis the season for in-law drama, traveling to far-away places with whiny kids, overwhelmed spouses and exhaustion. It’s no wonder our marriage counseling offices are often booked solid in January. The holidays can be magical and full of scrapbook worthy memories; they can also be full of conflict and disconnecting from your spouse.
Our primary purpose for writing this blog is to give insider information to married people everywhere. We see all the holiday fall-out first-hand, when couples walk into our offices starting January 1. So, we put our heads together and brainstormed the most commonly voiced concerns we hear from clients post-holidays.
Here is a little holiday Q&A:
Q: How do couples stay connected during all the family gatherings?
A: We have a love-hate relationship with family gatherings. We love the quality time, the traditions, cousins playing and everyone coming together around a thoughtfully prepared meal. We hate how couples can get lost in the mix. Instead of enjoying this meaningful time together, many squabble or divide completely. We recommend finding excuses to grab some couple time together (even 20 minutes is fine!). If you are with family for several days, try your best to make some of these happen daily:
- Take a walk.
- Offer to go pick up last minute items at the grocery store together.
- Take a really long shower before greeting others in the morning. Take it together! Heck, one of you can sit in the bathroom and talk to the other one showering.
- Go out for coffee.
- Go shopping for stocking stuffers at Circle K.
- Go to bed early and have some pillow talk.
- Try to connect once in the morning and before you go to bed.
- Hug each other extra long when you have an extra moment.
Q: How do you cut-down on family drama?
A: Every family has it. If you expect to encounter family drama because it’s as common an occurrence during family gatherings as Aunt Edna’s cherry pie, you need to be a bit vigilant. Alcohol and family drama often go hand-in-hand. Make a decision to cut down on your alcohol consumption at family gatherings and notice it may also cut down on how you get caught up in any drama. You wouldn’t believe how many stories we hear in the new year that start with “We had a bit to drink and then…..(insert drama-filled story here).”
Otherwise, be intentional in taking yourselves OUT of the drama by referring back to the ideas in Question 1.
Q: How do we handle our in-laws?
A: We could go on and on about this question (and we will in some future blog posts). But for now, keep it really simple. BE ON THE SAME TEAM. If you are letting your in-laws nudge, force or cajole their way in between you and your spouse, there is usually a hurt or angry spouse. Ideally, we want you to channel your inner Toby from “This is Us.” If you need a little help in knowing what this looks like, refer back to our previous post here. Remember as we keep shouting from the rooftops, connection doesn’t happen if you are on different pages, and it certainly doesn’t happen if you are not even in the same book! So, how do you get on the same team when your in-laws are causing trouble?
- Don’t make a personal attack against your in-laws. Instead of stating the obvious, “Your family is nuts” try a softer approach with “I’m feeling really frustrated with the situation at hand.”
- Don’t take your family’s side over your spouse. Even if you don’t agree with your spouse’s stance, try “I’m trying to understand your side a bit more,” “I’m sorry you are having a bad experience, how can I help you with this situation?” Even better, “I can totally see how that is frustrating for you! Is there anything you want or need from me?”
Q: Why do my spouse and I seem to argue so much more this time of year? What can we do about it?
A: With all the pressure and focus on making everything so perfect, people often lose sight of the important things. Have you seen this season’s new Macy’s commercial? The husband is outside setting up Christmas lights all day and misses out on a full day of fun with his family and at the end brings his wife outside. He has written in the lights: “I couldn’t find the words” and then he gives her some jewelry. She thinks it’s the best thing ever and they embrace. I thought to myself how much this reinforces in our society to value things over quality time. So, I told my husband to go shopping at Macy’s (because who doesn’t love new jewelry) but to hire someone else to hang our Christmas lights!!
- If you snap at your partner go back and apologize later, chances are you are taking something out on the wrong person.
- Repair after injury. Attempt to repair the argument soon after it happens. Maybe take a ten minute break then come back and own your part. Allow your spouse the same opportunity. Don’t let it fester and then create a snowball effect, that is the quickest recipe for disaster. And the quickest way to take the joy out of joyful experiences.
- Find your gratitude. Be grateful for those special people in your life and what you have (hopefully not just possessions). Express that gratitude to yourself and to others. I find it’s hard to be angry and in gratitude at the same time.
We wish you connected and drama-free holidays!
- Expect some level of conflict and drama this season.
- Take time to really connect and be on the same page with your spouse.