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How to have Happy Holidays with Family

We awoke this morning to four inches of snow covering the mums and pumpkins that flank our front door making it feel like we skipped right over Thanksgiving and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. This blizzardy, Michigan weather has thrust me into a joyous holiday spirit where I want to get out the cookie cutters and roll out some dough. It has also blanketed my heart with some anxiety as I'm already anticipating the tension that jingles in the air as we mingle at family get togethers. No matter what our family dynamics, everyone has some level of holiday stress. Perhaps you have a strained relationship with your in-laws or share different values than those of your adult child. Maybe you are worried about having to host relatives or discuss topics you'd rather not bring up. The holidays are inevitably filled with both joyous and nervous anticipation.

As we prepare for visits with loved ones this holiday season, here are some “ABC tips” on how to make your holidays happy:

Ask yourself and your spouse, “What am I (are we) capable of giving financially, physically, and emotionally this year?” Discussing how much you want to spend on gifts and factoring food costs into your budget is a good conversation to have before you are standing in the checkout line with a cart overflowing with stuff. Also, consider your physical state. Are you struggling with a health issue that is limiting you from doing all the things you’d like to or normally do like shopping, baking, decorating etc.? What about your emotional capacity? Has work or your current season of life been stressful to where your emotional reserves are maxed out? Ask your spouse how you can best support each other this year. A conversation at the front end will alleviate a lot of miscommunication and frustration when others are present, or decisions have to be made on the spot.

Boundaries around what’s important. Once you determine your capacity level, decide what boundaries are necessary to maintain your health and will keep your marriage intact. For example: If you are not financially able to bring gifts to every family get together, it’s ok to politely decline participating in the gift exchange this year. If you are not up for taking on your mother in law’s opinions regarding your toddler's sleep habits, it’s ok to politely redirect the conversation or respond by saying, “I’d rather not talk about that during the holidays.” And if you are trying to take better care of your health, it’s permissible to pass on your mom’s cheesecake even though she made it “just for you because it’s your favorite.” Deciding ahead of time what you want, need or feel is appropriate and asking your spouse for support will better prepare you to respond lovingly while under pressure.

Compassion for one another. Families are meant to be a safe place of approval and belonging but sometimes, even into adulthood, our unique family relationships bring out our critical or competitive nature if we don’t feel those needs have been met. As a result, our own perceptions may influence our behavior in negative and judgmental ways. Parents can become critical of their adult children’s choices and grown siblings can compete with one another over who has better behaved kids. Keeping in mind that everyone is equally valued and each of us is doing our best enables us to view one another with compassion instead of criticism and sets the tone for an enjoyable time together.

There is no magic ingredient that makes for a perfect get together but a pinch of gratitude, a dash of empathy and a heaping dose of kindness, make a good recipe for a holiday filled with happy memories.

PS: You can find more practical marriage tips in our newly released book, An Intentional Marriage – Making Your Wedding Day Vows an Everyday Reality, where we dig deeper into these topics: strengthening friendship, growing through circumstances, uniting (not fighting) over money, deepening intimacy and maintaining commitment. You can grab a copy on Amazon for yourself or give as a Christmas gift to another couple. We sure do

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