“Peace on Earth” is a phrase that starts getting a lot of press this time of year. It’s on the radio, it’s on the cards in the mail, it’s on the wrapping paper for sale in the grocery store; it feels like “peace” is everywhere. But for so many, peace is not a part of this season at all. The holidays can be stressful. There is only so much money in a bank account and only so many hours in a day and yet during the holidays it seems we all try to pretend time and money are not limited resources. On top of that, there is also the issue of families.
A gift to have? Usually. But is time with family characterized as peaceful? I doubt it. This is the time of year when it is common practice to spend time with your extended families. And while this can be wonderful for many it is challenging, and for many others still, it feels downright impossible. Plenty of people have chosen to stop seeing their families for the major holidays, for a wide variety of reasons and that is their right to do so. But plenty of people are gearing up to go and spend precious days of vacation with the people that tend to bring out the worst in them. Peace on Earth? Hardly. So how can you and your partner enter into all this family time and still remain a partnership?
- Remember you are a team. Your partner relationship needs to be the primary relationship you pay attention to during the holidays. Family and friends are wonderful and important, just not as important as your partner. Make a commitment to one another to be “for” each other rather than “against” each other when things get stressful.
- Make a plan. If it can be tough for one of you or both of you to be with particular members of your family, make a plan for the interaction before it happens. Some good things to include are: a) When do you want to see them? b) How long do you want to see them? and c) What will be your cue for “It’s time to go?” Making a plan helps each of you know what to expect and gives either partner the choice to leave if necessary.
- Stick to the plan. No plan is perfect but once it’s made commit to sticking to it. Sticking to the plan will help each partner feel heard and respected and it can eliminate conflict. A pre-determined plan helps provide clarity in moments of stress. For example, if you decide to leave the family gathering at 4pm you can tell your family this is the plan when you arrive. That way expectations are set and you and your partner have established yourselves as a team that makes decisions together and supports one another.
As you enter into your upcoming family time, remember you and your partner are your own family. You have the good fortune (maybe?) to have an extended family to go home to, but there are still challenges that come with extended family and these challenges do not need to be minimized. As a couple you get to make decisions about how you spend time with your extended family that will be healthy and safe for you and your partner. Once you get there, take deep breaths and check in with one another. Even in the midst of an extended family that doesn’t elicit peace in you, you can know peace in your couple relationship.