Here we go. The holidays again. If you’re in a relationship, it can feel like major testing time.
And for those of you alone for the holidays, I know that’s its own separate challenge. Don’t skip this article because if you have tension with ANYONE in your life over the holidays, the process I describe below will help!
(If you’re bumming about being alone, here’s some comfort: You can read another article here and there’s a podcast episode or two on the topic as well.)
How are your holidays shaping up?
Maybe you’ve been on this ride so many times you almost sleep-walk through them. Or about mid-October you start dreading them and adopt “survival mode.” You want to hibernate and wake up after January 2nd.
Perhaps you just love this time of year and you’re consumed with projects and plans and parties and people. It’s all so yummy for you, it’s one big winter fun fest.
Of course, those are two extremes and you might fall somewhere in the middle. Whatever your take on this time of year, it’s a deal. And it affects everyone. For some relationships, (honestly, this can apply to a love relationship, a child, a sibling relationship) this is a prime time when the same conflicts come up again and again. You could almost script them verbatim.
People make meaning of Holidays
even if the holiday itself means nothing to them. They’re a hot-button of expectation and personal, historical significance. When you and your mate have a sizeable gap in your Bah-humbug score, holidays can feel like a landmine of disappointments and endless, fruitless negotiation and “compromise.”
Do you and your mate have a long-standing seasonal conflict? What are your normal conflict conversations? Is there a recurrent fight? What bugs you about your partner that you just know is going to happen again this year?
And hey, if you’re in a new-ish relationship is there a conflict you’re hoping to AVOID as you head into the season?
Maybe someone else in the family is on your naughty list or you rarely see them and now you’re dreading having to deal with them. Grrrrrrr.
It might seem redundant or superfluous or just painful to actually think about the looming conflicts. But what if preparing for them could help you avoid them all together? Skeptical? Read on.
A new Holiday list
This year, instead of making a wish list or a gift list, indulge me and create a sh*t list. (I can’t think of a better thing to call it! Call it cr*p if you don’t like the word sh*t. Or if you think of something else, leave a comment and let me know!)
Yes, I mean, sit down and actually write the major areas of contention. What do you already know is likely to come up or happen?
Is it that you want him to go help pick out the tree and every year it’s like pulling teeth? Is it that she gets moody before going to spend time with your family? Is it that she zones out and whirls into DO mode while she harps on the kids to get everything in shipshape before guests arrive? Does he always shop at the last minute…like on Christmas Eve day and it just makes you frantic?
Does she expect you to be happy when you show up for yet another boring office party? Does he really expect you to talk to the ridiculous office mates you have nothing in common with? Do you set a budget for spending and then at the last minute, she goes over it or he pastes a hundred dollar bill in cards on the tree for EACH one of the kids?!
Write it all down
It might surprise you that you feel a little resistant to actually doing this. After all, if you write it down does that mean it’s more likely to happen?
Um, no. Writing it down gets it out of your head and out of worry zone where you can actually take a look at it and DO something constructive with it.
You write it down so you can acknowledge that you’re carrying worry and tension around inside you because of the impending doom associated with any areas of contention.
(And I know some of you have things to write down like “hibernate until January 2 while (s)he pressures me to do everything, eat too much, watch Uncle Harry drink like a fish, drop into my winter coma, put on ten pounds, get a cold I can’t shake, try desperately to avoid the same conversation with my mom about my life going nowhere and when am I ever going to…)
It’s not funny.
But when you write it all down and LOOK at it, you might think it’s a little funny, or pathetic, or absurd, or terrible. I don’t know what you’ll think of your own list. This much I do know: you will see patterns emerge.
I’m interested in those patterns. You can get interested in them too. Note them. Is there an underlying drive for control? Do you sincerely think everyone else should just stop their complaining and enjoy it. (“We’re having a family photo taken and you are going to like it!”)
What else do you notice? Are you trying to correct your holiday experience from childhood? Are you trying to recreate it? What else can you learn by seeing your pattern?
Then you can decide what to DO with each reality on the list. And those things are reality if they’ve happened…even once! But if they’ve happened several times, they are a pattern, not just for you but for the other people involved as well.
We’re secretly hoping something will be different this time around. We hope and hope and hope and then DO the same things in our approach and it never changes. Try something new this year.
Allow, Enjoy, Plan for the holidays
For each item on the list, make a decision about it. Your choices are to Allow, Enjoy, or Plan it.
Notice that your options are NOT Avoid, Fix, or Plot your new approach. (Allowing, Enjoying, and Planning for “that thing” to happen are your new approach, by the way.) Read through the examples below:
Allow the holidays
So let’s say your mate goes over budget every single year. Is it really the end of the world that he pastes hundreds into a card for each kid at the last minute? I mean it. Literally, has the world ended because of that? No. Allow it.
You know it’s going to happen again. You know the kids love it. You know it has nothing to do with you; it has to do with your mate. And the kids might also love that there is no tension and no daggers thrown because of something that’s pretty cool for them. This is a thing you can’t control anyway, and all your efforts to do so help you feel powerless, right? But allowing this thing to happen takes the power out of the thing (the area of contention) and it actually gives you power.
You are NOT at the mercy of someone else’s behavior even when it’s patterned behavior. It’s not your job to control it anyway, so you can just allow it or, maybe, sit back and…
Enjoy the holidays
Crazy as it may sound, enjoying Uncle Harry’s over-drinking is possible. I know for some of you that feels like a dangerous stretch for all kinds of reasons associated with substance abuse and expectations in those relationships. But expectations in relationship with Uncle Harry when you know he’s going to drink himself into a near-coma are, well, a waste of energy.
Honestly, I learned this one from my youngest son. He has an uncanny ability to enjoy whatever is happening. And if Uncle Harry is overdrinking, my son is able to sit back and find amusement in the sad, pathetic fact that this happens every year, Uncle Harry says stupid stuff to offend people every year, and Grandma predictably gets her feathers in a dither.
It may be an annual event fit for a sit com or movie, and if it is, I say, why not make plans to enjoy the show? Which brings me to the next option:
Plan the holidays
I don’t mean plan a way to avoid it or fix it or make something else happen. I mean plan for the thing that’s going to happen. Is it that you and your mate are going to bicker over whose fault it is that the gifts are not wrapped and it’s time to open them? Okay. Plan for it.
Is it that Christmas morning he is going to want to sleep in and the kids come to your side of the bed eager to wake you up and it spurs a battle that turns snippy all through your first cup of coffee and until the kids have opened their gifts and have the play Dough and remote control helicopter flying through the family room and then escalate into an argument over what time the car needs to get packed for Grandma’s in order to be there on time? Okay. Plan for it.
Planning for the unpleasant things takes the sting out of them. Then when they happen, you won’t be surprised. In fact, you’ll shift your expectation away from the thing that’s NOT happening. And it will put you in a lovely position to “allow” and ENJOY what does happen.
You might even be able to observe, with a sense of humor… “see, right on time. I knew that was coming.”
How will you Allow, Enjoy, and Plan for your Holidays this year?
Take a minute to comment here and let me know what you are doing to enter into the season? Anything about what I’ve said seem hard or particularly challenging? Leave a comment here or on Facebook and let me know.
I always want to hear how it’s going for you.
And if this was helpful in anyway to you, please share it with a friend…or all your friends. It feels really good to help! Let’s do it together.