As the song says “may your days be merry and bright” but you recognize you are already anticipating all the dampening of spirits by your Bah Humbug of a partner. You find yourself getting excited about all the parties, buying the perfect gifts, waking up to Christmas music, and then immediately you remember all this joy is likely to send your partner straight to tears or to a stone cold and indifferent. Now, before this sounds like partner bashing it is important to acknowledge there is a reason your partner is feeling Bah Humbug. No one, even if we think they do, wakes up and wants to feel depressed, critical, and discontent. There is something in your partner’s story that suggests this way of being is their best route to feeling safe and in control of life. Or they are in the midst of sorrow and are sitting honestly with how they are experiencing this season. It can be so difficult to sit in your own happiness when your partner is sitting right beside you in a completely different state. But you and your partner really can make it through the season in tact and you might even be able to find ways to connect in the midst of a season where you have completely different experiences. But how?
- Ask to know them in this season. Maybe you already know exactly how this came to be a difficult time of year for your partner. And maybe you don’t know. But it is always helpful to ask for the first or hundredth time, “Will you tell me (again) about what you are feeling and thinking as this season approaches?” Allow them to tell you and actively listen to what they are saying. Often times being able to know and remember how their story of experiencing the holiday in this way began is the birthplace for empathy.
- Ask yourself what their story(ies) of difficulty stirs in your own body and mind. When partners have differing experiences there is often a tendency to turn up the volume and show the other partner how things should be done. This results in a lot of conflict and a lot of aggression. Note how your partner’s story impacts you negatively and positively and try not to pour gasoline on the fire. Rather, do number 3…
- Allow difference. Sameness is not necessary in a couple relationship. You do not have to have the same emotions, the same perspective, or the same experience of the holidays or (of much really) in order to connect. Be comfortable with being different and be curious about one another’s differences. You can connect in the disconnect.
- Allow connection when it is there. Couple relationships have a lot of ups and downs. It’s part of being human and relating to another person. Don’t ruin the good moments with resentment and a demand for sameness. If there is one song or one family gathering or one moment during the holidays that your partner enjoys, enjoy it with them. And if you are able to connect in the sadness or anger, enjoy that too.
It is difficult when our partners are having a difficult (or impossible) time. But we can be intentional about how we approach them, ourselves, and our relationship during this season. When you approach your partner with a posture of curiosity and interest you will have the best chance of connecting, even if it is in the disconnection you both are feeling. As you anticipate what could feel like a lonely season as you and your partner are in different places, see if you can’t seek it out as an opportunity to be together in your differences.