The holidays are a time of cheer, sparkle and excitement and a time of celebration of our life’s blessings. They are also a time of stressors and a time of triggers. A family member you have not seen in a while because they are not the most courteous and kind individuals. Or the list of gifts you have been planning to buy. The relationship that’s been rocky that is the elephant in the room (whether yours or someone else’s. Even the decorations, the house preparations, outings and kids being off and meal planning could be a bit too much to handle. But one major stressor that tops the list year after year is hosting. As a couple whether you are married or not, if you have relatives getting together and staying with you or even just meeting you for the festivities at your place, there is a lot that could stir the pot.
Whether your marriage or partnership is in cruise control or in troubled times, during the holidays, there is such a spotlight on relationships. The myth that everyone “should be happy”, spending loads of money and partying hours on end and meeting all the expectations of their significant others and family members pervades society.
I specialize in communication and conflict resolution and find that many of my sessions during the months of November and December are themed around survival skills surrounding the holidays.
Feelings get intensified during the holidays
Whether individuals, families or couples are fine by themselves, as a system, they are usually facing a high level of conflict as a result of either infidelity and betrayal, feeling distant and disconnected, facing alcoholism, illness or death, divorce or rehab, unemployment etc. And during the holidays, the sadness, pain, and loneliness tend to get intensified mainly because of the societal pressures that we put on ourselves to be a certain way and also because many different personalities all cohabiting under those societal pressures with their own maps and previous experiences and expectations.
According to a Facebook study, the rate of status changes just during the two weeks before Christmas was significantly higher than any other time during the year.
Avoiding conflicts is not the solution
I am not going to tell you to avoid conflict because avoiding certain kinds of conflict could actually lead to combustion. There is a delicate balance that paired with boundary setting, clear lines of communication and assertiveness can provide for great conflict resolution and a very peaceful process after.
However based on my over 20 years of counseling on conflict resolution, that applies to only 1% of situations. The majority of situations are actually not urgent enough to be tackled right away and the majority of people assume that based on the way they feel, they should judge whether they should, in fact, tackle it. In reality, our feelings and thoughts are not good indicators of conflict action because they are usually ego driven; our principles and value are actionable and they don’t lie. The big question to ask overall, is this situation against my values or is it about control?
For the purposes of this blog, I am going to stick to the 99% area; stressors that are avoidable from turning into conflict.
Wherever your relationship is on the spectrum of functional to dysfunctional, I believe these Conflict Prevention Skills which are based on my years of practice, as well as ideas shared by my clients, will help you keep your serenity and peace during the holidays.
1. Party, but don’t attend every party
This is a play on words of course. By a party, I am referring to an argument or instigation. In other words, an “invitation” to get involved. Just because it’s happening around you, it doesn’t mean you need to be involved in it. Even if your partner or someone else is trying to pull your strings, you have the power to not get engaged. Using “I Statements” you can easily excuse yourself in an assertive manner.
2. Expectation is the mother of disappointment
The Ghost of Christmas past and future both say Expectation is the mother of disappointment. It’s not about the “bling box”, the perfect tree, the perfect dinner table, outfit or you neat home or children. Good enough is just great. Don’t set yourself or other people up to fail or worst yet, test them. Think simple. Just enjoy and be in the moment.
3. Drink cold water, have mercy and be merry
It takes two to have an argument. Be glad to spend time together with your partner and even if you are in a not so positive place, remember that this is not a time to fight or disagree about issues. Save yourself and your children and relatives from an outburst by giving yourself frequent breaks, timeouts, warm shower and cold water breaks and breathing space, when you notice emotionally viable conversations come up. You can always talk about it later, and privately.
4. Meditate and gravitate to gratitude
The holidays sometimes turn into a make or break kind of event or a synopsis of the whole year. As if there is a race to prove our whole entire year was a “success”. As human beings, our thoughts and feelings drive our energy. The more we come from a place of the deficit, the more we will get the deficit. Instead, focus on the positive. What you are thankful for will always light up your eyes and your heart, and make you a more approachable person during the holidays and beyond. During the holidays, start and end each day with a gratitude list and you will feel the difference and breathe as you do. Then later in the day, when a stressor comes up, take yourself back to that list in your mind and use your breath again to guide your thoughts.
5. Love is in the air
We are programmed to think, our parents, our siblings, our spouses and partners, our children and basically everyone we interact with is supposed to be “exude love” during the holidays. Well in truth, they are feeling the pressure just as we are. So rather than looking outside of ourselves for love, it’s best to take the time to love ourselves. Baths, massages, sleep, hugs and warm non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic beverages are replenishers of the soul; So shower yourself with them.
6. The Elf is watching all your good deeds
Sex is part of the holidays too. Many assume that because they are busy, have family over, etc. etc. their sex lives should take a holiday break. This is not farther from the truth. According to various studies, the hormone called Oxytocin has been found to lead to feelings of bonding and attachment to our partners as well as a natural stress reliever and mind clearing agent. There is nothing worse than feeling like a couple that is low on the love energy or worst yet sexually frustrated. Talk about stressor! Put you first as a couple and don’t forget the oldest medicine of all.
7. Money as the root of holiday conflict
Money issues are one of the biggest reasons why couples fight throughout the year. Rather than impulsive shop or try to stretch your budget to get approval or please others, as a couple, come to a meeting of the minds and decide what is a good budget in advance of the holidays, and stick to that plan. Trust me, it will not only bring you closer, it will save you a ton of grief after the holidays are well done and over.
8. Don’t mother everyone
Whether you are a mom, or dad or you are just hyper-responsible as a human being, that side of you is likely to come out even more during the holidays. You want to make sure everyone is happy. But is that really your job? Social psychology experiments have demonstrated over and over that when people are asked for help, they are more trusting and they feel more at ease. So rather than catering to everyone be it in food preparation, or driving, or any other work involved, allow others to do what they can to help.
9. Assets are not just in the bank
If you know your husband or significant other is not the handy kind, don’t all of a sudden expect that during the holidays he is going to magically become handy. Work off of everyone’s assets and give them something to do that they are good at. If someone doesn’t want to do anything, you can’t control that either. Be accepting of it, and move on. Know that if they are not going to chip in and get involved, they are the ones that are missing out on the feelings of belongingness that we all derive great satisfaction from.
10. Consume alcohol in moderation
Unfortunately, another of the social pressures during the holidays is drinking a lot of alcohol. It is as if it is a prerequisite. O.k. so you enjoy your glass of wine or whatever your drink of choice may be. But let’s not forget that alcohol is a mind-altering substance. So although many believe it is a stress reliever, it may act that way at first, but go into any bar and you will find the number of alcohol-induced fights that result from this “stress reliever”. As a couple also, have a talk prior to gatherings about your drinking and be mindful to stick to your couple goals. Take it from me that the before and after of alcohol-induced couple fights discussed in sessions is a sheer indication that it is simply “not the best stress reliever”.
As the basis of my practice, I use both Emotional Intelligence and neuroscience to guide the principles of communication and conflict resolution strategies. Our brains don’t know the difference between good or bad thoughts, they are just programmed to think. It is our job to direct our brain to do what we want it to do and think. Learning some simple changes in our behaviors can have a great impact on our lives and life satisfaction.