The holiday season can be stressful on any relationship, much less one that is already struggling. We have to contend with colder temperatures, less daylight, and making great holiday memories. For some of us, even television commercials serve as a constant reminder that we must create a "perfect" holiday experience. Couples who already feel distant from one another may find it difficult to put effort into their relationship when so many other things are vying for their attention. The holiday season can be a time for connection and renewal; if we are purposeful about putting effort toward improving the relationship at home. I've put together a few suggestions that may help you and your partner get the best out of this holiday season.
Choose Your Partner
With the holiday, many of us experience more time with extended family. This can be a positive experience for some; while many find this increased family togetherness very stressful. Knowing the challenges both you and your partner may face is very important to adequately plan for a positive experience. While planning events, plan for emotional first aid for both of you. If you know that your partner wrestles with depression when their hypercritical mother visits or seems to crumble under the weight of their father's disappointment, talk to your partner about it. Allow them to vent to you without dismissing or minimizing their experience. Allow yourself to see your partner's pain. Ask them what they need to get through this experience. Create an alliance and develop a strategy that will reduce the stress of the interaction.
Questioning why your partner allows this person to push their buttons may not help as much as understanding that this person pushes their buttons. Our families know exactly how to push our buttons because they are the ones who installed them. Many couples struggle with difficult family relationships because they do not realize that their bond is being tested. The "divide and conquer" strategy will succeed in pulling you apart if you are not prepared. Use the stressful events to bring you closer together and solidify the bond between you.
Choose Your Battles
The stress of the holidays can dramatically increase the conflict in an already stressed relationship. Pay attention to one another. If your partner is particularly stressed before an event, this may not be the time to argue about finances. Your concerns are valid and should be addressed; at the appropriate time. If you are already hurting and lonely, arguing about the holiday menu may feel like salt in an open wound. Set aside calm time when you, your partner, and your relationship are in a good space before discussing potentially controversial topics. When you give yourself and your partner time to calm you may find that the topic is not as important as it seemed originally. This may require a cost/benefit analysis. Consider asking yourself a few questions before engaging in this way.
- Does the potential benefit of this conflict outweigh the cost of the conflict itself?
- Will this interaction ultimately bring us closer together or further apart?
- Will this matter to us in a few weeks, months or years?
Choose Your Boundaries
Many conflicts over the holidays begin when we do not have adequate boundaries. If one family member seems to want to remind you of your failures and make you feel bad; limit your interactions. If a particular event makes your stomach turn each time you attend, you may want to consider opting out. This is your holiday too. It may not be in your best interest to force yourself to interact with family members that put you or your spouse down. Know what is acceptable behavior to you and resist the urge to succumb to the pressure to make others happy. . If your family is toxic that does not mean that you have to let effect you. You have the option to choose to allow that toxicity into your relationship. Honestly, not having boundaries between your relationship and your family can prove to be detrimental. Many couples struggle because parents, friends, jobs, hobbies, or other things come before their relationship. The holiday season can be a welcome distraction from a struggling relationship but ignoring your challenges may be detrimental. Find time to feed your relationship so that it can emerge stronger when the holidays are over. What you feed will flourish, what you starve will suffer. Choose to create protective boundaries around your relationship to help it to survive.
Holidays can bring on good and bad stress. Having difficult relationships with the ones you love can very easily make this time of year more difficult. Creating a secure base in your relationship can help to make this time a little easier. Your relationship can be the safe place you need to reduce the stress of the season, if you put the effort into it. Its like building a house. Houses can be great shelters from the elements, if it is built. Build your house and protect yourself from the rain. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for more tips to help your relationship survive this holiday season. If you are in or near Columbus, Ohio and need help with your relationship Click Here.
All hands on deck! I assume if you are reading this that your home is much like ours around this time of year. We struggle with coordinating open houses, supply lists, paperwork, clothes, shoes, new teachers, bus routes, the list seems to never end. Lazy summer mornings are traded for before dawn wake-ups and 100 meter dashes to the bus stop. We forgo trips to the pool to trips to the local Supercenter for the unanticipated item we neglected the day before. Managing all of this is exhausting! In all of the to-do list items competing for our attention, how do we keep our marriage alive? Here are a few suggestions to help your relationship alive (and dare I say thrive) through the chaos of this time of year.
Remember You Are In This Together
One partner may carry more of the load when managing day-to-day tasks, but in the end, you are a team. Sometimes it is easy to get irritable and soon begin to bicker with one another. Remind yourself and your partner that you are working together to get through this. When you disagree, try to hear the message instead of getting stuck on how it is being delivered.
Get Organized To Stay Organized
If your family is anything like ours, we start the year off really strong with organization. Sometime around the time the leaves change our plans have dissolved into a distant and fleeting memory. Sticking with a plan can assist you in making it through this school year successfully. Spend some time organizing schedules and then put in time each week or month to check in and make sure the plan is still viable. Start basic and expand as time and needs require. That will help your family to maintain over the school year and allow you to find for just the two of you as well.
This Too Shall Pass
In most families this back to school chaos is not permanent. One day you will find that most of the emergencies were temporary annoyances and will soon be forgotten. Years from now you will live in the peace and harmony that comes with no longer having school-aged children. Your family will find your own special kind of order and settle into a routine. Be patient, it will probably get better. Find ways to appreciate one another every day. What you say to your partner may out last the struggle you are in right now; becoming either comfort or contention for years to come.
Take Time Out For Self-Care
With all of the stress of meeting some deadline or standard don't forget to take care of your own individual needs. Some parents lose sleep over scheduling soccer practices and choir rehearsals. They drag themselves from activity to activity without stopping for rest or a decent meal. Your body is much like your car. If you don't put fuel in it, eventually it will stop. Do yourself, your partner, and your family a favor; get some rest. I don’t think the earth will stop because you took a nap every once in a while.
Spend Time With Your Partner
Sometimes it is easy to forget that you are more than just co-managers of the family. You are two people who love one another. The ultimate health of your family is largely determined by the health of your relationship. Put time for love and re-connection on your calendar because it is just as important as making sure the health forms are in by the deadline. Sneak away together on a regular basis. This helps your children to learn to prioritize their own relationships as well when their time comes. Regular attention to your spouse also teaches the children that they are not the center of the universe; helping them learn healthy boundaries.
Starting a new school year is difficult for many families. The first day of school signals new beginnings. Sometimes the school year also signals new anxieties (or old ones repackaged). Acknowledging that you are working together for a common goal could be a great way to bond in your relationship. Setting a plan and sticking with it will model organization, teamwork, and togetherness. While managing the children make sure to take some time out to nourish your marriage, your relationship will thank you for it.
Q: How Would Taking Care Of Myself Help To Improve My Relationship? Part II- The Danger In Unmet Needs
In Part One I wrote about those of us who lack self-care turning to their spouse to have all of their needs met. This time around I discuss what happens when you realize your partner cannot meet all of your needs and look for other ways to fill the void. When we ignore our own needs we feel empty and we look for other ways to fill the voids we experience. In providing affair recovery therapy I have found many unfaithful partners lacked adequate self-care.
Most people think of self-care as simple behaviors like exercise or sleep. Yes, that is a part of it but that is not the whole picture. True caring for self is addressing all of our needs; including emotional, psychological, and relational needs Adequate self-care is really about finding the voids in your life and finding a healthy way to fill those voids. Many couples come to counseling and one or both expect their partner to fulfill every need they have. The unmet need for love, attention, and affection is especially dangerous when you are in a relationship. Many affairs have started this way. We need to matter to someone, feel important, and valued (self-esteem). Many affairs promise these needs will be fulfilled, but over time the void is rediscovered because this is an internal job.
People who lack sufficient self-care are many times people-pleasers, martyrs, or self-sacrificing heroes/sheroes. They may tell themselves it is wrong to spend time and energy on themselves. Their do not see their own needs or create boundaries that support their well-being. These folks with these invisible needs may search their whole life looking for something to fill that need. That "something" could be abusing substances, busying themselves with children, becoming a workaholic, or taking on a lover. At any rate, the primary love relationship suffers because this partner is no longer completely invested in the relationship. The "something" has taken their partner's place as the most important thing to them.
If someone is able to recognize the deficits in their life, and incorporate adequate self-care to reduce the deficit, the relationship is more likely to survive. One would need to find wholeness and feel complete in themselves to combat the temptation of the quick fix the "somethings" promise. Beginning and maintaining sufficient self-care can create a beautiful relationship of two whole, healthy people.
Well, I'm glad you asked. If you are reading this you may need to be convinced or need help convincing someone else that taking care of yourself is necessary to have a healthy relationship. Taking care of yourself is relationship enhancement and will help to prevent its destruction.
Your favorite airline makes sure you hear the words "put the oxygen mask on yourself first". Why? Because you cannot save anyone else if you perish.
The same principle can be applied for relationships. If you always put others' needs ahead of your own, you may destroy the very person they depend on.....you.
As a marriage/couple counselor I see many relationships in distress because one partner has taken on the self-sacrificing hero/heroine role and resents their partner for not doing the same. Over time many couples find they are building resentment and anger that has all but destroyed the relationship. One partner experiences the demand for love and attention are far too high. The other (the martyr/hero/heroine) feels their needs are never adequately met. The second partner desperately attempts to hold on tighter while the first partner feels suffocated.
Ok, but if I'm focusing on me won't my marriage suffer?
No, not if you are responsible about it and your life is in balance. I f you are constantly running on empty you may look to your spouse to fill all of your empty buckets that you have neglected. As an example, if you are not taking care of yourself emotionally you may learn to depend on your spouse to manage your emotions for you. You may find yourself saying something like "I am not fulfilled in this relationship". Looking for complete fulfillment outside of self is dangerous. You have everything you need to be happy and healthy already inside you. A healthy relationship is a complement to your life not completion of it. Neglecting yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, professionally, and/or psychologically could make you take more from your partner than they have or are willing to give.
The truth is: one must find balance in life. Maintaining health in all aspects of life allows you to be a whole person where you can give freely and fully. A person lacking in self-care can drain a relationship and leave both partners drained. You owe it to yourself and your relationship to address your own needs before you can begin to address needs of others.
If you are ready to begin the journey to well-being and want to join us (online or in-person) in the next self-care group click here to learn more about the groups starting in mid-October.
If you realize your relationship is struggling and want to learn more about the specialized relationship counseling I provide in Columbus, Ohio click here.