While the holiday season is often referred to as “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” several people experience the opposite. Sometimes the holiday season feels more like “The Most Anxious Time of the Year” or “The Busiest Time of the Year.”
Couples can easily feel overwhelmed, anxious, and distant from one another when holidays approach. Each partner comes from a different background with different traditions and trying to fulfill each tradition can cause conflict to surge. And conflict isn’t always bad: It typically is a signal that something is of great importance.
Maybe one of you wants to drive to 3 relatives’ houses in one day and the other wants to stay home. Perhaps one partner feels like their traditions and holiday desires are being ignored. Our Atlanta couples therapists are familiar with this dynamic and offer some suggestions to help.
Communicate About Your Traditions
Before the holidays approach, talk about your background and the expectations you have. To make it more concrete, each partner can make a list of all of the typical things that they associate with the holiday and bring it to the discussion.
Each partner can take turns interviewing – not interrogating or mocking – the other about the traditions they hold. Ask questions like:
- What did you love about that growing up?
- What did you not love about that growing up?
- Is that a tradition you want to continue?
- Is there anything you’d be willing to compromise on?
- What are the top 2 most important things on your list?
Open communication helps you know your partner better, realize that they have reasons for their traditions that are as valid as your reasons, and gives you an opportunity to intentionally set expectations.
Explore Why Your Traditions are Important
Understanding the history of your traditions can help you figure out if they’re traditions you want to fight for. Some people keep and perpetuate traditions that don’t actually mean anything to them, because it’s just what everyone always did.
For example: Your family always traveled to 3 different places on Thanksgiving and now you’re feeling like you need to do the same. After reflecting, you notice that you don’t actually want to do all that traveling, and are just reacting to expectations you feel others are placing on you.
Once you know why you’re doing something, you can make an informed decision about whether or not you want to keep doing it. If you don’t actually want to continue the tradition, you don’t have to. If you do want it, then you can articulate why it’s so close to your heart.
Take a moment to reflect on what the idea of compromise brings up.
If you are viewing it as weakness or giving up, you’re missing the point.
Compromise allows you to keep what’s most important to you while extending the same to your partner. Maybe you go 3 places on Thanksgiving but nowhere on Christmas. Perhaps you assert that you need your partner to choose only 2 functions instead of having weekly parties to attend. Both partners should end up with something they want.