How To Achieve Holiday Harmony In Your Relationship

Four friends smiling and toasting their glasses at a party(BlackDoctor.org) — To many young couples, the anticipation of that first holiday together can arouse an almost unspeakable excitement. The internal scripts of heart-warming family welcomes, an open-armed mother-in-law, and frustration-free finance talks bring about as many fetching images as gleefully dancing sugar plum fairies.

For those of us who have been indoctrinated, we know that those flitting fairies are certainly that—fairytale images of what it means to be in a real relationship and have real feelings with real issues to contend with during the holiday season. The decisions to buy one another gifts (or put the money into this year’s renovations, or pay off built-up student loans), how much to spend on the kids, and where to spend the “it” holiday (your family’s house or mine?) can certainly produce a whirlwind of emotions and even lead to unspoken, but eventually acted out, resentments. So in the seasonal spirit of goodness and joy for all, I’ve composed a few clinically proven suggestions to help make you and your partner re-experience just a touch of that first-time together holiday fever.

Constructive Conversations are Key

These questions (again, such as finance talks, whose ex-wife/husband gets to share in the holiday feast), regardless of the holiday, can evoke very strong emotions in partners, even those long-standing ones, for a variety of reasons. The first thing to consider is how to have a mature, open conversation about what to do, without allowing those strong emotions to temper the results of either the conversation, the decision, or most importantly, your relationship (no, that doesn’t mean downing a bottle of scotch before you speak). Acting mature may seem daunting at first, especially if you and your partner tend to be the stick-your-tongues-out or not-speak-for-days-at-a-time type. But maturity in these matters is not only desirable, it is attainable.

First, plan a time when you are going to get together to have the discussion. This may seem silly at first, but couples who set out time for one another, and especially set out time for these important conversations, last longer. It signifies respect for the other person and that you not only want to be heard but are also willing to listen. After all, no one wants to be caught just out of the shower or out of the door to work with a half-eaten bagel in hand only to be pressured (or told, or nagged, or criticized) into making a decision. You can even make it a romantic dinner/evening so that it isn’t something to dread, but, rather, something to look forward to.

If you have younger children, you may want to make sure they are out of earshot, so that they do not feel obligated to hold onto any adult feelings or potentially hurtful words that may be expressed. As for older children, it is advisable to meet as a couple first, so that you have your thoughts and feelings ironed out before you share this with the rest of the family. If you do have children, it would then be a good idea to have a family meeting (and again, you can make it fun by ending the evening with a holiday movie or a family game) about the issues at hand. For older children (especially those who are caught in-between divorced parents and stepparents, etc.), it is advisable to let them share their desires and feelings about the matter. This will teach your children better communication skills (including the listening part of communication), and let them know that even though you as the parents will make the final decisions, their feelings, thoughts and suggestions (which can sometimes be quite ingenious) are just as valuable as your own.

Where and When to Talk About Money

In terms of finances—always a sticky subject and one of the leading causes of divorce—this conversation is not a necessary one in which to burden the children (even the older ones), especially if it involves how much to spend on them. In order to avoid harsh interactions, sit down and look at the facts. How much do you have coming in, going out, and how much can you realistically spend and remain within your budget? If things are written down on paper, then there is less room for wild dispute or disagreement. Keeping it simple with finances is always the way to go.

That being said, everyone, and, of course couples, has different value systems about how to save and spend their money. It is hopeful, but not always realistic, that couples will have discussed money management issues prior to joining a long-term union. If not, which is often the case, then start now by writing down a few ideas about why your feelings on holiday spending are important to you (not an argument, but a list of reasons).

Try to listen when your partner speaks (because you were most likely drawn to the other by some of his/her differences also) and not plan your case while he/she speaks. Then you can literally re-write a joint vision together, attempting to respect and combine both of your suggestions and desires. Remember, too, that if you do have children, modeling such open and healthy conversations about money will really save them some financial agony in the future.

Know that going into the conversation that you are going to have to agree on something in the end, so try to do so with not only concern for your needs, but for those of your partner as well. But remember, respecting and listening do not make you weak; they only enhance the quality of your relationship (which means better laughs, better talks, better family time, and, of course, better sex).

Some other simple strategies to make this holiday season merry:

Do something nice for someone else: Be grateful that you are at least in a relationship—if, of course it is a healthy one, and know that many people don’t have anyone. Ideas: donate clothes to a homeless shelter, join in the church food pantry collection, make cards with your children for seniors in nursing homes, bake Christmas cookies for your neighbor whose son is in Iraq.

Make a relationship gratitude list: Sounds silly, but gratitude lists are researched and proven to increase mood and overall quality of life. If you are feeling prickly about your partner, make a daily list for two weeks of everything you value about him or her. Don’t tell your partner you are doing it. Guaranteed, in that short amount of time, your anger load will be lighter. This can also be helpful with the more difficult people to deal with, like ex-wives, ex-husbands and older teenagers who are going through a bad period.

Stay Active: Just because it’s chilly out doesn’t mean you have to stand still with clay feet. Exercising together can increase endorphins, connectedness and great sex, and promotes overall health and wellness.

Bake Together: Look, I can’t bake either, and I’m not domestic, but doing it with someone you love can be a blast—even more so if it turns out to be a “disaster.” Take pictures of your creation and use it as the cover of your holiday cards, instead of a basic store-bought one.

And, as the Cliché Goes, Always Use “I” Statements: Well, we are talking reality here, so do your best to stay focused on yourself and, of course, don’t bring up the time his great aunt burned the turkey in 1978!

By Blythe Landry, BDO Contributing Writer

Blythe claims that she is first and foremost just another human being trying to make the most of what she’s been given in this life. Simple, but not always easy, right? And certainly, she does have some skills that qualify her for this mental-health columnist position. She is a dually mastered educator and clinical social worker
with over eight years of experience as full-time educator.

As a clinician, Blythe has worked with children of all ages with behavioral issues, learning disorders and mental illness. She has also worked with middle-aged and elderly adults having issues ranging from mild depression to marital strife and anxiety. She has also been intensively involved with clients struggling with more potentially severe issues, such as physical/sexual abuse, death/dying, PTSD, severe and chronic mental illness, Alzheimer’s/dementia and addictive disorders (both substance and “process” addictions).

Blythe not only feels compassion for the many people struggling with these issues, but also for their friends and families who feel daunted about ways in which they can help. She believes that all of these very serious concerns, as well as those “simpler” ones, such as how to ask your not-so-congenial boss for an extra day off, are very important. But she also believes that laughter is the best medicine with which to start.

Blythe hopes that, through this column, you not only gain some key tips on how to increase your day-to-day mental health concerns, but also that you walk away feeling a little bit lighter about the particular issue being addressed. And remember, no matter how tremendous the issue you are dealing with feels today (and it may very well be a serious one), don’t let it consume your every thought, because a new issue will always be ready for you to put on your worry cape for tomorrow!

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