3 ways to keep your relationships the right way up when holidays turn the world upside down
The promise of the holidays is peace and reconnection, but ironically, as we all know too well, holidays often deliver exactly the opposite – disconnection, frustration, and relationship tension.
When we go from normal life into the holiday season, it can be a bit like crossing into “the Upside Down” in the TV series Stranger Things. Things look similar, but they’re different, somehow wrong. The promise of the holidays is peace and reconnection, but ironically, as we all know too well, holidays often deliver exactly the opposite – disconnection, frustration, and relationship tension.
Subtle shifts happen in the holidays that tend to trigger the craziness. For a start, spending a lot more time together can be a bit unfamiliar and exposing. If you’ve been sweeping some tension under the carpet, it all comes out. Then there’s all the decision making… where to go, what to spend money on, what to do with the kids today, and do we really have to ruin Christmas with your selfish sister again this year? And without the supporting structure of our normal routines, our day can become like a big amoeba, moving randomly and going nowhere. The kids, especially, can get anxious and restless without their routines.
Add all the external demands (concerts, in-laws, decorations…) and if you’re like most people, you’re feeling irritation, overwhelm and perhaps a sense of neglect and resentment. (Five glasses of prosecco and a mince pie, anyone?)
So here’s a Christmas gift for you this year: a simple, practical guide to help keep your holidays the right way up and your relationships and sanity intact!
The magic key
The magic key to manage the negative and unlock the positive side of these holiday shifts, is to become aware of the different expectations that you and your partner (and kids) are unconsciously holding.
For example, your expectation might be, now that you’re on holiday, you should sleep in a little, and have the leisure to do whatever you feel like doing. At the same time, your partner’s expectation might be, now that you’re on holiday, you can get up early and start ticking off the backlog of house maintenance jobs. You both look forward to tomorrow morning… but broken expectations lie in wait like sharks.
This applies to everything: personal projects; play time; where and with whom you’ll be spending Christmas day; how much time you’ll be spending with your respective extended families; whose responsibility this or that job is.
Often, we are barely aware of our own expectations, let alone our partner’s. And we don’t communicate our intentions, because we think our family should hold the same ones.
Newsflash: they don’t. But, becoming conscious of our differing expectations and intentions opens up the possibility to align our various wants, and create a holiday we’ll all enjoy.
What you can do now:
1. Shared meaning and traditions
You and your partner will have grown up with different traditions, and probably a different sense of the significance of the season. Don’t underestimate how deeply ingrained these are. Maybe for you, it’s all about returning to your parents’ home and being pampered like a kid while quietly watching the cricket, while for your partner, that’s a weird waste of time you should be using to reconnect with the “tribe” in a big noisy social gathering. For one, church is most important, for another it may be family. Whatever the differences, if you’re honest, the “other” one seems weird to you. However, it can be really rewarding and fun to take the time to discover what’s different, and what you share.
Alignment opportunity: Invent your own family tradition
Talk with your partner and children about what they most love about the season or the day, and what you, together, want it to mean. Start your own traditions that you can look forward to and on which you can build great memories. Done right, it can be a connecting and even romantic gesture to invent and introduce something special.
Grant and Katherine started a tradition when their boys were little, where they built up a bonfire each New Year’s Eve, with a wooden Guy Fawkes-type figure on top, and they would each pin some personal notes to it, before setting it ablaze. The notes were of the mistakes, regrets and events they were choosing to let go of from that year, ready to take on the new year without unnecessary emotional baggage.
2. Shared communication principles
If you’re going to get through the holidays in one piece, you’ll want to lay your ground rules for how you talk to each other.
Once you’ve bought into a simple set of attitudes and behaviours together, you can always point back to them like a lighthouse to steer you off the rocks.
Alignment opportunity: Draw your family’s way-of-being poster together
When you’re all in a good mood and you aren’t in a rush (this will take some planning!), talk about how you’d like to feel, and how you’d like to help the others feel, when you’re discussing something, or making choices together. Talk about what fires up the tempers. The hot buttons. The cold buttons. Admit (and have a laugh at) how you react when you’re not at your best. Talk about what you find funny, and the specific things you love to see & hear from each other. As you go, sketch these things onto a big piece of paper, and finish up by articulating in bold letters the few simple rules you can all commit to for the rest of the holidays, including when you’re communicating under pressure (running late for something, finding a compromise where not everyone is getting just what they want, and so on). Put it up somewhere prominent.
3. Shared plans
This is the crux of holiday success. If you’ve taken the time to surface and communicate what your expectations, hopes and intentions are for the holidays, and you have listened carefully to those of the rest of the family, you can make shared plans that will drastically reduce the pressure, rush and resentment that ruins holidays.
Alignment opportunity: Plan the calendar together in advance.
- Find your common ground. What is fun or valuable (at least a bit!) for all of you?
- Deliberately list what you’ll be saying No to. (Arrangements with people you don’t like? Expensive outings you don’t enjoy? Whatever it may be for your family.)
- PLAN the good stuff way in advance, including some time to do nothing, and some time to get done the practical and necessary stuff.
- Put the calendar up next to your family communication principles.
- Kiss somebody for being so smart and wonderful.
Have a go at these 3 simple tactics
Have a go at these three simple tactics to set yourself up for a holiday that’s less upside down than it sometimes is. And let us know how it goes!
Life is too rich to stay under our control, thank goodness. Few things end up going exactly according to plan. Also, every partnership is unique, and we recognise that many relationships are already under strain before the holidays start. If you’re in a difficult place right now, these principles are not intended as a relationship fix, but they might just make the next few weeks more bearable.
Whatever your circumstances, we at adieu.ai wish you an extra share of peace, joy & purposefulness.
A note from the authors at Adieu.ai:
If your marriage is ending, you may wish to explore your options with us for a respectful, uncomplicated and affordable way to separate that will keep your co-parenting relationship intact, keep your children’s interests first, and divide your property with fairness and transparency.