As if work pressures, financial juggling and a lingering pandemic weren't stressful enough during the holidays, along comes the struggle between your family, your partner's family and your own holiday. Is it possible to balance everyone's expectations with your own schedule and still manage to relax and enjoy the season?
Expectations vs. Reality
Expectations are at the heart of what stresses us out during the holidays. Your family expects to spend the holiday with you and your partner's family expects to be together as a family as well. And of course, your work responsibilities don't stop. Then once you finally get some time off, you and your partner also expect to have part of the holiday for just the two of you, together as a couple.
Video of the Day
Add to that all the expectations around finding the perfect gifts, hitting the right sales, getting projects wrapped up at work and taking care of everyday life – and you find yourself with more than you could possibly ever accomplish in reality.
Time to level-set.
Reframe Your Expectations
Start by being honest with yourself. There is no such thing as "perfect" gifts or the "perfect" holiday. You can't be everywhere at once. While you want to be respectful and gracious when it comes to family gatherings on your side and your partner's side, it is OK to set limits and set aside time for yourself. In fact, it's healthy!
Sit down with your partner and share your feelings about the holiday. Discuss what is most important to both of you.
Create Consensus Through Emotional Intelligence
Rather than worrying about disappointing one family or the other, create a conversation. Be open about your feelings, listen to the feelings of your partner and both families. Identifying and managing emotions, or exercising emotional intelligence, can help get everything out on the table.
Listen to each other's perspectives and come to a consensus about reasonable expectations and the families' calendars for the holidays. Get flexible with days, dates and celebrations. After all, flexibility is key to your health.
Get Creative With the Calendar
The holiday doesn't have to boil down to just one or two make-or-break days. Instead of panicking over your family celebrations happening on the same day, think creatively and plan a special night outside of the actual holiday to enjoy each other's company with less stress:
- a holiday cocktail or tea party
- a festive breakfast or brunch
- a cookie making party
- tree decorating at your house
The holidays aren't about "my" family or "your" family or one exact day. They are about cherishing family and friends and celebrating time together.
Don't forget: When you're setting up the calendar, remember to block off time for just you and your partner!
Focus on the Fun
Once you've got a handle on expectations and the calendar, it's time to focus on what is at the heart of a celebration: fun!
Twinkling lights and warm meals together, festive drinks and holiday cookies. It's the action and special details that make our holiday times together fun. As you attend the holiday gatherings of your family and your partner's, forget the obligation and remember the celebration. Enjoy the gifts you've picked out or made yourself, settle in and have a good time.
In the days before and after those celebrations, remember to bring a little sparkle into your life as a couple. Find small ways to make the in-between days special: leave each other notes, cook a special meal or bake cookies and deliver to friends. Have fun together.
Consider also: How Buying a Gift Affects the Person Buying
Make New Traditions
Part of the fun of being creative and flexible in your holiday mindset is the ability to be open to new experiences. While the world is still dealing with a pandemic, some of this newness may be forced upon us. Travel looks different, gatherings at restaurants have new rules and these things may prompt changes in family plans. Look at this as an opportunity to dream up something new for this year – and maybe as a new tradition.
Explore new ideas as a couple, too. Walk through a local park, visit an outdoor holiday market, drive around and look at Christmas lights, book a couple's massage or reserve a cottage in the woods. It doesn't have to be an extravagant holiday date. It just has to be yours.
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
- Information Is Beautiful: Peak Break-up Times on Facebook
- APA.org: Holiday Stress Report
- Psychology Today: Use Holidays to Boost Your Relationship, Not Stress It Out
- Cleveland Clinic: Stress: Coping with Life's Stressors
- Harvard Health: Self-Care Strategies During Holiday Season
- Conemaugh Health System: Let Your Heart Be Light: Taking Care of Yourself During the Busy Holiday Season
- Cleveland Clinic: Has the Pandemic Caused More Breakups?
- CDC: Holiday Celebrations (Safety, Covid and...)
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov: Psychological Flexibility as a Fundamental Aspect of Health
- Help Guide: Improving Family Relationships with Emotional Intelligence
- Michigan State University: Strategies to Cope With Family Stress
- McLean: How to Break Free From Our Expectations