::GUEST BLOG POST- Survive the Holidays by Setting Boundaries & Releasing Expectations::
It’s the most wonderful time of the year...or is it? For some, the holidays are the highlight of the year. They look forward to the decorations, traditions, and family get-togethers. For others, the holidays can trigger painful memories and serve as a source of anxiety and stress. But there’s hope and I’m going to share (2) simple ways you can survive and, hopefully, enjoy the holidays.
1. Set Boundaries: Setting boundaries is a term that therapists LOVE to use. Essentially, boundary setting communicates to others what is okay and what is not okay with you. In addition to physical boundaries, we can also set emotional and relationship boundaries.
During the holidays, many couples struggle with how to balance the demands of extended family. Each partner may feel pulled by their family/friends to partake and celebrate the holidays by their family’s traditions. This outside stress often results in each partner taking their frustration out on each other. Here’s the good news! If you set boundaries ahead of time you can avoid a lot of pain & frustration.
How To: Discuss with your partner how the both of you want to celebrate the holidays. This may mean setting new traditions. Decide what works for your relationship. Be as specific as possible. What time will you allot for visiting one another’s family/friends? What time will you reserve for your new traditions?
Communicate to one another what is most important to you – your must haves as well as what you’re flexible on. It’s important to be as eager to meet your partner’s requests as you are for them to meet yours.
Once you’ve established your limits and rules refer back to them anytime a family member or friend challenges you. For example, if your sister insists on having dinner for New Year’s Eve at her house because that’s what you’ve done for the past 15 years, but you really want to celebrate New Year’s Eve this year alone with your beloved then be ready to communicate that to your sister. Note: It’s most important that the person who enforces the boundaries/limits be the one who has the most history with the person challenging the boundaries.
Benefit: By establishing and agreeing to your boundaries as a couple there will be less confusion about how to respond to outside pressure. If you’ve decided as a couple what you will commit to prioritizing one another’s wishes, then you can both rest assured that you are both working towards the same goal.
2. Release Expectations: Having a plan and a wish list of ways to celebrate is GREAT. There’s nothing wrong with having a vision of how you would like things to go. However, if you forget to include flexibility as part of that vision you’re likely to suffer from great disappointment when if things don’t go exactly as planned. I’m no psychic, but you can probably bet on something not going as planned. Depending on how you manage disappointment, your reaction may hinder your ability to enjoy the festivities. However, by allowing for the unexpected you increase your likelihood and ability to manage the stress of things going off script.
How To: Sit down with your partner and make a list of activities that are important to both of you--activities such as driving around local neighborhoods to see how they decorate their homes with holiday lights or baking cookies. Then decide again which are most important and how you will be flexible about. It’s great to have a vision, but if you’re ability to enjoy the holiday is contingent upon strict orchestrated ways that these activities will be performed then you may end up disappointed.
Also remember, this is YOUR vision. The rest of your family may not find these activities as exciting or joyful as you. If your ability to enjoy the holiday relies upon OTHERS enjoying the activities you planned you may end up highly disappointed and resentful. Stay flexible! For example, decide that you want to see the neighborhood lights, but be flexible on the day/time you see them versus, “We have to go see the holiday lights on Christmas Eve at 8 PM with everyone in their PJS and then stop afterwards to get hot cocoa from the coffee shop drive-through because THAT’S WHAT WE DO EVERY YEAR!” That attitude may not spark the holiday cheer you’re working towards.
Benefits: By implementing flexibility into your holidays, you will be better equipped to manage the anxiety that may arise if things don’t go exactly as planned or if someone isn’t as thrilled about your plans as you. This will allow you to stay in the moment, be present, and perhaps even laugh at the chaos. I know…wishful thinking.
Whatever you decide to do, remember that the stories and the value we assign to life is exactly that…the value WE assign to it. So this holiday season, decide WHAT you will prioritize and what value you will assign to it.
Eliza Boquin, MA, LMFTA
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