Preparing for Jingle Hell? Forget that! Here’s how to have the kind of holiday season you really want to have.

There's usually a little bit of "this" in every holiday season.

There’s usually a little bit of “this” in every holiday season.

Well, the holidays are almost here again, and based on what clients tell me, finances, family, food, rituals and raking leaves are on the mind. Some of these things are comforting and wonderful, and other things are – uh – not.

Since I’ve been around a long time and I’ve heard what clients love and hate about the holidays, I’m going to offer my reflections on what’s worthwhile about the holiday season and how to deal with the things that aren’t so fun. Here goes …

On the bright and sparkly side …

Bonding opportunities abound. Rituals are things people do together that strengthen their relationship, and the strengthening of the relationship is called bonding. The more bonds a marriage or family has the stronger it will be, so bonds are a very good hing! There are endless rituals families can do together that fit the bill, and they can be simple or … not. Watching TV on the couch every night, cooking, bowling on Wednesdays, having friends over every Tuesday, weekends at the river … during the holidays it can be a special dish that you serve, a certain way that you dress, a toast that you make, goodies that you make, preparing stockings for everyone, a certain movie you watch every Christmas Eve … the ideas are endless. I urge every family to have holiday rituals that strengthen their bonds!
Love Languages People of all ages have love languages, if you don’t know what they are, here’s your chance to learn. Love languages are things we can do for those we love and who love us that makes them really feel that love. Bring this list and ask someone you care about, what is your love language? Once you find out, you’ll know what to do to keep that love alive – it’s wonderful to stoke to fire of love and caring …

1. Physical touch. If this is one of your loved one’s love languages, you need to find out what kind of touch and how often. Then do it.
2. Words of Affirmation. Appreciation, love expressed, caring affirmed.
3. Quality time. It is, what it says it is. Your focused attention and/or time, in the way your loved one appreciates.
4. Acts of service. Take a load off your busy loved one’s day by doing a chore or an errand, help clean up, babysit the kids so she can rest, wash his car.
5. Gifts. Money and value isn’t the thing. Could be a card or a flower picked on the side of the road. Most loved ones especially love gifts that fill a need that you’ve taken note of, like a night light for the hall if they get up, a warm robe for the cold bathroom, a cell phone charger for their car.
Another word about gifts. I know people who think it is blasphemy to tell your loved one what you’d like to receive for Christmas, and others who swear by the list concept. Please know that in no way is it greedy to let people what you’d like to receive for a gift, and it is absolutely OK to want things. As for me, I always believe in what is kind and thoughtful towards the person I am buying for, so I like to give my loved ones some things they tell me they want, and a little something they wouldn’t splurge on for themselves. So I ask for a list, and then I throw in some surprises. The key to being a gift-giver is knowing who you’re buying for and the types of things they love and enjoy. If you don’t know what that is, ask. The best gifts I ever received were not expensive, but showed that the giver put thought into it. Yes, receiving is wonderful fun! But I also love the joy and delight of giving, and think it is a wonderful thing to encourage in your young family members.
• In the end, love. Show it, give it, be open about it.

On the less sparkly side …

We all have things we don’t like about the holidays. Many have crazy family members, too many people they are expected to visit, do too much cooking and preparing without enough assistance, spend too much, eat and drink too much … what’s a person to do?

Crazy family members. We all have ‘em, but once we’re grown up there is no law that says we are obligated to spend lots of time with them – or any, for that matter. So while you may tell yourself you have no choice, you really do. I highly recommend severely limiting time spent with unpleasant people, and if you do decide to be around them, play a game with yourself like when you step into their house you are really stepping into a movie that is a comedy, and you are visiting these weird characters who will amuse you briefly and then you leave.
Too many people to visit. Young couples complain to me regularly that, “We have to go visit his parents, then his aunt, then his cousins, and then my family and we’re fitting in about 10 stops in 18 hours and I hate it.” This sort of insanity is very easy to fix, and that is by learning to tell family members with expectations a very warm, friendly, “Sorry, we can’t make it!” If your spouse hates visiting your extended family and friends over the holidays please do not subject them to it. Look out for her and have her back … create a holiday visit plan that works for both of you, and consider the possibility of having your own Christmas together and not visiting anyone at all.
Too much cooking, doing, preparing and not enough help. It takes a team to create huge family meals without stress! Limit your menu, cook ahead and freeze, request that people bring a dish, buy part of the meal from a caterer like your local grocery store, and ask your family to help decorate, set the table and create a family ritual of whoever cooks doesn’t have to clean, and vice versa. Create a cooking crew and clean-up crew with your attendees. If you can’t or don’t know how to ask for help, it’s time to learn. If you’re a control freak and don’t want another person involve, get over yourself and invite the helpers to help.
Spending too much. When my kids were little I did this and the way I remedied it was to decide how much was reasonable for me to spend per person in my family, and then I stick to my budget. I tell myself if I can’t pay it all off by February, my budget is too high. Over the years I have severely limited my list of people I buy things for to my husband, our kids and the people who work for us. No more gifts for siblings, nieces, nephews, friends … it just got to be too much, financially, and cutting the list took loads of stress away, too. Some families draw a name so that they only have to buy one gift – anyway you cut your responsibilities down, I’m all for it.
Eating and drinking too much. I once read that the average American eats 10,000 calories on Christmas Day, and I do think there are times to indulge yourself, and times to hold back. I enjoy eating a healthy diet most of the time, and if I’m going to over-eat it is going to be at some wonderful holiday meal or when I’m on vacation in a beautiful place that has the best crab cakes or bread pudding around. It’s all in how you conduct yourself most of the time. A life of deprivation is not a life, so why even try? As far as drinking, I always think that should be done in moderation, but if you fail at that, we now have Uber or Lyft, which I’ve used several times in different cities and have found it quick, easy, affordable and headache-free.

So now that you know how to improve the quality of your holidays, go out and enjoy! And here’s to wishing you Happy Holidays and a joy-filled New Year!

Hi, all! It’s Dr. Becky’s assistant, Tiffany, back again with another guest blog! I don’t know about you but I’m ready for fall weather. I’m finally looking forward to the holidays. I wasn’t always so eager to embark on a new season, though. As I’ve stated before in my introduction to this blog, I’ve dedicated a large part of my life to being a classroom teacher before having enough sense to step away. During that time I looked at autumn with very weary eyes. Year after year when the leaves started to change color it meant that another stressful school year was underway and it would feel like an eternity until Thanksgiving break and Christmas vacation. Days feel like months when you’re spending most of your waking hours around children who are old enough to talk back. To add to an already bad situation, I never really enjoyed those coveted holiday breaks because I’d feel like I was going off to battle on another front. I would have to spend time with my family.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m crazy about the holiday season but I like it a lot better when I get to pick and choose who I spend time with…and this kind of selectivity is rare for a lot of people. I grew up with strong feelings of obligation to others. My family used Thanksgiving and Christmas as the grand high holidays of obligatory behavior – we HAD TO go have dinner with family members who we really didn’t enjoy being around. Why? Because it’s family, of course. Show up without a gift for the cousin or aunt you only speak to twice a year? That was unimaginable in my house. It didn’t matter to my family if the dinner ended up in an explosive shouting match or awkward silence and tears. We were all together in the house, and it was Christmas. I have only a few ‘good’ holiday memories as a result, because most of the time we were forced to be somewhere we didn’t want to be.

Now that I’m much older I realize that I have options when planning my holiday season. I also understand that there are toxic people who should be avoided at all costs, even if they’re family. Above all else, I’ve learned that ‘home’ for the holidays can mean sending gift cards from the comfort of my living room sofa and not having to go anywhere or entertain anyone. I felt very liberated the year I decided to stay at my own place for Thanksgiving simply because I wanted to spend time with people I actually wanted to see. If any family member’s feelings were hurt by my absence, they’d eventually get over it. I was no longer a child, but an adult making my own choices and deciding and where I felt comfortable. Seriously, though – we live in the 21st century. If Aunt Judy feels slighted that she didn’t get to say hello to me from across a well-decorated Thanksgiving table, she can poke me on Facebook. I’ll get back to her by New Year’s Eve.

When your partner makes a request about something that is important to them, it is crucial that you take it to heart.

When your partner makes a request about something that is important to them, it is crucial that you take it to heart.

When a spouse pleads with their mate to go to marriage counseling, you can bet they’re frustrated – trust me, people don’t just ask their partner to go to counseling if they’re only a little annoyed. Instead, when your partner says, ‘Hey, can we go to marriage counseling?’ it’s pretty indicative that they’ve already made repeated unsuccessful attempts to improve the relationship on their own, and failed.

Yes, your spouse needs change and has cajoled, nagged, bribed and suggested, only to find their requests either ignored or met with delays and excuses. At the point they seek counseling they’re not looking for divorce – yet, but that will probably be on the table later if nothing is done.

Spouses seek the services of a therapist to help persuade their partner that the situation at-hand is serious, and once in my office, here’s what I’m likely to hear:

“I asked him to look into why he has a very low sex drive and he hasn’t done anything.”

“Her obsession with cleaning leaves me and the family with no quality time. I ask her to give us some time but she won’t sit still, so what am I to do?”

“He promised me he would look for a better job after we got married. It’s been four years and he hasn’t done one thing.”

The common dominator in all of these situations is that the unhappy spouse has made an important request regarding something they need or want, and their partner hasn’t been responsive. Get this if you get nothing else from this blog post: It is impossible to exaggerate how much damage being unresponsive to requests does to relationships.

Once your spouse has made a request, and then reminds, and asks, and asks again, and still nothing happens, they will enter the Frustration Zone, and at that point your marriage has entered into a negative spiral that could very well end in, well, The End.

So what about you? You’re the recipient of the complaints. Do you get a say? Of course you do! As we ponder what’s going on between you and your spouse, I will want to know two things:

1. Is the request your spouse making reasonable? Sometimes our spouses ask us to do the impossible or even things that make no sense, other times what they ask of us is entirely doable, and within the realm of reasonable expectations, such as regular sexual activity or spending time together, so which is it?
2. What is the obstacle that makes you unable or unwilling to meet the request? Be honest with yourself.

If your spouse is making an unreasonable request of you a Marriage and Family Therapist will be your new best friend. They will tell your partner this and kindly ask them to back off. If the therapist sees that the requests are reasonable, however, you’ll soon find out that your lack of response will eventually move your spouse from frustration to the much more serious level known as being fed up.

A person who has fallen into in the Fed Up Zone got there by passing through four phases that unfolded over months or years. They are:

1. A request was made.
2. If the request was not responded to, an angry plea was made.
3. If the request was still not responded to, an anguished plea for change will be made such as, “I don’t how long I can do this, I’m barely hanging on here,” or “This is very serious!”
4. If the request is still not responded to, the disgruntled partner will stop asking, and quietly watch and wait for a response. They give up and enter the “fed up” phase characterized by a dismantling of their emotional connection to the other and allowing the relationship to die.

The fed up phase has several characteristics that will end when the disgruntled partner completes their disconnection process and an emotional divorce takes place. When that happens, the mate will be mostly apathetic about their partner and the relationship.

The metamorphosis of disconnection will be apparent by the following signs.

1. Ambivalence sets in and the partner both wants to and doesn’t want to be in the relationship. “I can take it or leave it,” is the idea.
2. A new life blossoms away from the partner. The disgruntled one finds joy and meaning in life somewhere else, and sometimes with someone else.
3. Language changes … references to the future together will be few and far between.
4. Brutal honesty. No longer exhibiting political correctness, you will now hear for the first time how he always hated your sister and mother.
5. New boundaries. Before he was willing to do things he really didn’t want to do with you, now you can forget it.
6. Warnings. If you haven’t been contributing to the family finances, your partner may suggest you take up activities that will lead to you being able to support yourself – “I think you ought to be thinking about getting a job or going back to school,” or “You may not want to be counting on me to support you forever.”

People show signs when they begin to disconnect from a partner. It happens because needs weren’t met, respect wasn’t given, the relationship and time together wasn’t cherished. Unhappy people almost always speak up and tell their partners when they’re feeling disillusioned in whatever way. They turn on their flashers, set off flares, dance around and wave their arms, and then they give up. All because the other person wouldn’t, or couldn’t, respond to the need.