Expectations at Christmas
Christmas can put an extra and unnecessary strain on your relationship – so I really hope I can help you out here with some relationship advice. I really don’t want you to be one of the thousands of people knocking on the door of a relationship expert once the holiday season is over!
First of all, you may as well acknowledge that you could be at risk of setting yourselves up for failure – if you want to call it that. Why? Well… the holiday season is often so stressful because of the huge expectation to get everything exactly right:
- the right presents
- the right food
- the right atmosphere
- the right mood
- the right festive events
- the right cards/greetings
- the right contribution to the school
- being the right daughter/husband/child/parent
- being a good guest
- ensuring that your children are on their best behaviour
Whatever all of that means! And how stressful is that?!
Peace and joy… or trouble ahead?
– 11 of the most common Christmas time relationship stresses
All the expectations around Christmas can lead to disappointment – for you, and for others.
Below, I’ve listed the most common reasons why stress levels can go through the roof during the festive season. I’m sure you’re already well aware of some (if not all!) of them.
But I hope that if I can prepare you in advance, you may be able to manage your partner’s, your children’s and your own expectations way in advance of Christmas.
Hopefully, this will also help you to become more aware of the pressures that other people around you can feel too. It all creates the potential for a meltdown!
Here are just some of the pressure points on relationships at Christmas:
- The pressure of time in terms of all the above expectations
- Managing your finances may even be more difficult in December, and differences in attitudes towards spending will be even more apparent
- The cost of Christmas parties – in terms of money, time and maybe even your relationship if your trust in each other has been damaged
- Staying with extended family and/or…
- … having extended family staying with you
- Spending time with children who may not be your own
- Spending time with children who may not behave in the way you’d want them to
- Deciding with which parent the children should spend their days (if you and your partner are separated or divorced)
- Your children not being with you on the days you’d have wanted
- The influence of alcohol – on your partner, on you, on your guests
- The physical and mental effects of the kind of foods you eat during this time (yes… food affects your mental well-being too!)
Given that there are so many potential causes of relationship problems at Christmas, how about insulating your relationship like you insulate your home?
How to insulate your relationship at Christmas
There’s still enough time to review your Christmas arrangements. So decide what you’re definitely going to do differently this year. Remember: if you always do the same thing, you can’t expect a different result!
Here’s a plan for you and your partner to use well before Christmas, and during the festivities themselves. If you have children, arrange for them to stay in their rooms for an evening – with a tray of goodies if needs be – or have them spend a night away with friends/family if at all possible (you could agree to swap).
10 relationship tips to help you survive Christmas
- Start your Christmas preparations together with some quality time together. Switch off the TV, put all phones on silent, light some candles, cook something easy or have a take-away.
- Indulge in a bit of daydreaming about your ideal Christmas. Think about your ideal location, ideal guests (think celebrities if you want to!), ideal food (forget about the staples). What would you want to see happening? What would you really like to get? How long would you really like it to last (whatever ‘it’ means)? Etc…
- Brainstorm all the things you really do have to do – the things you don’t have a choice about. This list is for the unavoidable musts. Then see if you can add in anything you’ve written down for point 2 above.
- Consider telling your family and/or friends that you’d much prefer to spend some special time with them during a weekend in the dark month of January. That way you’ll have something to look forward to after the holiday season’s over.
- Review my list of expectations at the beginning of this article. Make a list of tasks and break those up into individual steps, so that you have some clarity on what exactly is required.
- Divvy up the tasks and make lists for both or all of you (if you have children) to make clear who’s responsible for what.
- Work out together who you both might want or need to help or visit for whatever reason. Giving generously of your time and energy can be more rewarding than any gift. If you can really commit to it, you’ll gain tremendously yourself by cheering up someone else. If you do it with a sulky attitude, it’s just going to feel like hard work. Lovingly helping someone else will also take the focus off your own troubles for a while.
- If on Christmas day your partner (or someone else) hasn’t fulfilled their task, whatever you do – don’t go on about it! It’s not worth a row at that time. Lower your expectations and be grateful for whatever it is good and goes well for that day. Make a point of looking out for those positive things.
- Accept from the start that you may ‘fail’ in someone’s eyes, if not your own. Oh well… you and everyone else will recover! Just agree that, whatever happens, you and hopefully your partner are going to make Christmas the best you can manage.
- If your house is full or you’re staying with other people, plan for the two of you to spend some short bursts of quality time together. That might be an early night, a stroll to the park, a midnight feast, an early morning start, or any other way to escape children, family and/or friends (however much you love them!). It’ll help to anchor you and your relationship, and also gives you time to problem-solve any unforeseen issues.
Please note: under no circumstances should you make any decisions or have any important conversations when either one of you is under the influence of alcohol!
Here are some more tips from the Greater Good’s Christine Carter, PhD:
How to avoid Christmas relationship stress
I do hope that you and your partner are indeed going to enjoy a great, loving Christmas together.
Here are my top tips for keeping things in perspective:
8 relationship survival tips for Christmas
- Don’t panic about last minute stuff not being done or not being quite right. Forget about running back to the shops, standing in endless queues and spending more than you had intended. Instead, rely on and use the wonderful problem-solving properties of your brain.
- Accept that whatever happens and however hard you try to get it right, someone will get the hump at some point. They’ll get over it. Or if not… time out and distance gives everyone time to reflect.
- You are not responsible for someone else’s happiness. You can bend over backwards and still not get it right for some people. You’ve probably already thought of someone that fits the bill!
- When you filter out the wants from the needs of all those expectations, you realise how little meaning there is in anything other than lovingly connecting with each other, friends and family. (Yes, I know there are troublesome members in your family – every family has them!). This makes it no different from any other day, and Christmas is only 2 x 24 hours.
- If you have people staying with you, ensure you make plenty of time for privacy. This should be a time deliberately set aside for everyone to quietly enjoy a couple of hours free from expectations other than to be respectful of everyone else’s time, space and sensitivity to noise. You and your partner could go for a walk, or slip out for a quiet drink together.
- You’re likely to have a great Christmas if you can enjoy it 80% of the time and not let the 20% that wasn’t so great spoil the rest. It’s going to depend on your attitude. Unless of course there’s truly a major drama and, let’s face it, life does have a way of throwing things at us when we least expect it!
- Be conscious of how much you drink. If you’re at all concerned, try the hypnosis download: Party and Have Fun Without Alcohol. For further information, see my article Self-Hypnosis FAQ and Downloads.
- If your relationship or marriage is not what it used to be, you may need to consider all the expectations and options at Christmas even more carefully. The festive season has the potential to become the straw that broke the camel’s back. So take the time in advance to work out what you need to do – together and independently – to manage what can become a really difficult time. If you need some extra help with that, you might like to talk to a relationship counsellor. See my page on online counselling to get connected with an expert right away.
Rather than let all the energy you’ve put into Christmas dissipate, why not use what you’ve experienced/learnt to make next year’s Christmas easier and quicker to organise and run?
After Christmas, arrange for a time to give everyone an opportunity to comment openly and honestly about how Christmas was from their point of view. You may or may not like what you’re going to hear, don’t judge, don’t punish and keep it positive.
Summarise without any undertone in your own words what you’ve heard from your partner and your children – the good, the bad and the ugly. Write it down as is and discuss how you’d all like it to be next year. Then plan how you’ll achieve that. Preparation is key for success!
I do hope that my relationship tips and advice will help you to have an even more enjoyable and peaceful Christmas together.
Remember: no matter what happens, you’re not a failure and you haven’t let anybody down! However Christmas turns out this year, consciously look for the positives. No matter how hidden they might be, I promise you, they’ll be there somewhere :-)
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