I began working in couples counseling in private practice in 2012. I quickly learned that holidays are a busy time of year. My first two summers, I saw clients on the 4th of July! It wasn't a matter of flimsy boundaries; it was a matter of need. And so, too, the time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is another brisk time for me. I'm okay with it. But the more interesting question is why is this such a busy time? What is it about interacting with the family that sends folks to therapy, particularly when people are so busy with parties, obligations, planning, gift buying, preparations, and celebrations? Is that an obvious question? Maybe so? Maybe the better question is how do we interact with family in a way that is less distressing?
1. Lower your expectations. We all have fantasies of a perfect holiday. We picture holiday bliss replete with favorite meals, traditions, pictures, and memory making. What happens instead is far from the fantasy. What is a realistic expectation? Time together, memories? Not perfection.
2. Even though you are family, rules of civility apply and certain topics need to be off limits in order to enjoy the day. This is not the day to discuss controversial topics like politics or why little Johnny is failing Algebra or how Aunt Debbie has gained weight/lost weight, etc. Boundaries should be honored, even with family. And I know, even if you are following this rule, others won't, just listen, give a brain dead reply, "Could be" "Is that so" and keep it moving. The day is about turkey, presents, children, togetherness...keep it light.
People Over Stuff
3. Don't stay long. I tend to forget. I have visions of holiday joy and overplan, but I've finally learned. Less is so much more. Less time. Let me repeat that, less time! Not all day, not three days, lordy no! Just a meal and clean up. That's plenty. If that goes well, do it again tomorrow. People are tired this time of year, fuses are short, everyone needs a nap, and I'm not talking about the kids. Less is best!
4. And most importantly, people over stuff. Don't get caught up in the stuff and the buying. Sure kids love gifts, but adults can do with the thought. Don't put yourself into debt for a bunch of needless junk. We all know this. Our consumerism culture is powerful; don't fall for it. Holidays are about what matters: time together with people we love.
So maybe with these tips in mind: short, surface, emotionally safe, economically prudent, I won't need to see so many families during the holidays. But if it all comes crashing down in an avalanche of tinsel, ribbon, boxes, and bows, give me a call, I'll be here.
Melissa has been a Plano couples therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist since 2012. She recently moved to her new office near the Shops of Legacy in West Plano conveniently located to serve the communities of McKinney, Allen, and Frisco. She also specializes in working with depression and anxiety counseling as well as a wide spectrum of other psychological concerns you can learn about here.