Trusted for 23+ Years
Surviving Thanksgiving As A Couple: Creating Meaningful Memories
Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert
The Holidays Can Be Rough
As Charles Dickens once wrote—"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." which is certainly a sentiment that can apply to the holidays. The joy of spending time with family with delicious food and fun is often contrasted by the demanding nature of our relationships, the pressures of spending money, and the challenges of travel. All of which can make for a stressful situation. Throw into the mix getting the flu or COVID, and you may need a vacation from your vacation!
It's more common than not for people to feel that they are struggling with a range of emotions over the holidays, and the most important thing we can do for yourselves is practice self-care. This can be especially difficult for those in the role of providing all the festivities who find themselves feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated.
Psychological research suggests that accepting our mixed feelings, rather than forcing ourselves to be entirely positive, is better for our emotional well-being. Furthermore, creating a plan when you are in a partnership will help provide a more smooth holiday season. In this guide, I will explore ways that you can do just that!
Establishing Healthy Boundaries
When it comes to having healthy boundaries, remember that they are not just for you. Often, we fail to understand that when people do not understand our needs, we are setting them up for failure, which can cause resentment, the kind that could have been prevented if you had communicated better.
Thus, it is vital that you first identify your needs and think about what would make the holiday less stressful and happier for you and then communicate that tactfully. Let's review examples of what those boundaries may look like:
Boundaries For Partners & Acting As A Team
Nurturing One Another
Agree on spending quality time together, away from the hustle of hosting or visiting family. Even if it is in the form of taking a walk that allows you to talk or some relaxation time at night. For example, you can offer one another a massage, play with one another's hair, or do other loving acts where there is not necessarily a sexual agenda, and you simply nurture one another.
Division Of Labor
Discuss and divide holiday-related tasks and responsibilities to avoid overburdening one person. This includes the mental load of planning things. One person should not be the only person orchestrating every detail, such as figuring out all the recipes, creating the shopping list, determining all the travel planning, what to pack, and more.
Furthermore, it should be made clear what tasks are the priority and that you agree that you both follow through with those expectations before tackling other projects.
Maintain a mutual understanding about what personal topics are off-limits for discussion with extended family. Agreeing to act as a team and prevent heated exchanges can be quite beneficial. Furthermore, establishing safe words or phrases that help remind one another of your plans can also let your partner know when you need their help dealing with something without tipping off problematic family members.
Supporting Each Other
Stand united in decisions, especially in managing difficult family dynamics or enforcing boundaries with children and relatives. When you approach these issues together, you will feel less overwhelmed, and this can even deepen your bond with one another.
When it comes to being there for others, be there for them by doing three important things: active listening, offering validation, and avoiding minimizing their experiences. By doing so, we're not just being positive; we're being present.
Boundaries With Children
Clearly communicate expectations about what you expect with them regarding their behavior, helping out, and participation in family activities.
Respect Their Space
Recognize their need for personal time or space, especially for older children and teenagers. Let them know that you support their needs and ask them their ideas on how they can achieve this while still participating.
By involving them in the discussion, you can show them that you value their needs while still providing the expectation that they will need to help with family obligations.
Include Them in Planning
Involve kids in holiday preparations to foster a sense of responsibility and belonging. Ask them what tasks they may want to help with and even have them demonstrate their strengths to the rest of the family.
For example, have them help make a recipe, entertain the family, or clean. Then, let your family know their contribution and your pride in their help. Children greatly benefit psychologically in feeling valued through their contributions.
Listen to Their Concerns
Be open to hearing your children's feelings or worries about family gatherings. Provide them with empathy and assure them you will do your best to help them have a positive experience.
Let them know that you understand it can be stressful, and allow them to comprehend that you are all in this together. Creating a team-like atmosphere as a family allows for a greater sense of bonding.
Boundaries With Extended Family
Avoid Controversial Topics
Agree beforehand to avoid discussions leading to arguments, such as politics or personal choices.
Set clear start and end times for family gatherings to prevent exhaustion and maintain personal space.
Respect Dietary Choices
Be considerate of everyone's dietary preferences or restrictions, and ensure there are options for all.
Protect Personal Information
Gently but firmly avoid sharing too much personal information or details about sensitive topics. Avoid saying things that may humiliate your partner or children; rather, find ways to verbally celebrate them.
Prevent Unhealthy Dynamics
If you have a person who is participating in your Thanksgiving who has an issue with being inappropriate with others, here are some tips on how to best deal with them:
Set Boundaries Early
Before the gathering, communicate your expectations for behavior. Let them know what topics or behaviors are off-limits or how you expect them to behave.
Have A Plan
If certain subjects like politics or religion tend to spark conflict, plan ways to redirect the conversation. Prepare neutral topics in advance, such as discussing favorite movies, books, or family memories.
A humorous response can steer the conversation away from potential conflict if the relative makes an inappropriate comment.
Talk to other family members who understand the situation. They can help keep conversations on track or step in if things escalate.
If you feel overwhelmed or frustrated, excuse yourself for a short break. A few minutes away can help you regain composure.
Understanding where the problematic behavior comes from can help. This doesn't excuse inappropriate behavior, but it might help you to respond more calmly.
Choose Your Battles
Not every comment or behavior needs a response. Sometimes, ignoring a remark or changing the subject is more effective.
Create A Distraction
Plan activities or games to keep everyone engaged and reduce opportunities for difficult conversations.
If part of why someone gets out of hand is because they consume too much alcohol, you may want to water down their drinks or provide non-alcoholic beverages such as non-alcoholic beer or cocktails in between real ones to allow them to partake in drinking without the excess of alcohol.
If their behavior crosses a line, take them aside and discuss the issue privately. This avoids public confrontations and allows them to adjust their behavior without feeling attacked.
Focus On The Positive
Focus on the positive aspects of the day and what you are thankful for. This can help uplift your mood and reduce the impact of negative interactions.
One of the best ways to nurture yourself during the holiday is to ensure you're getting enough rest. Thanksgiving can be exhausting, so sufficient sleep is an excellent place to start. Also, stay hydrated, and while it is fun to indulge, try to make nutritious choices when you can, as it will impact your sense of well-being.
It's okay to take breaks throughout the day to breathe and center yourself—just a few minutes can make a difference, even if it is just a short walk. Taking time to do something you love or relax, such as reading or another hobby, may also be helpful.
Ways To Connect As A Couple
Cook Thanksgiving Meal Together
Collaborate on preparing a traditional or non-traditional Thanksgiving feast to bond and make memories. Bake Thanksgiving treats like pies, cookies, or other desserts.
Spend part of the day volunteering at a local shelter or community center to give back and share the holiday spirit.
Host A Friendsgiving
Invite other couples or friends who may not have plans for a potluck dinner to extend your celebration and enjoy a variety of dishes.
If you both enjoy the outdoors, consider a hike or a walk in a nearby park to enjoy bonding with one another and nature.
Watch Thanksgiving-themed movies or any favorites that you both enjoy to relax and unwind.
Crafting For Thanksgiving
Engage in some Thanksgiving crafts, like making a wreath for the door or decorations for the house.
Attend a Thanksgiving Parade
If there's a local parade, it can be a fun event to attend together.
Plan A Thanksgiving Getaway
Plan a small trip to a cozy cabin or a bed and breakfast if you prefer to escape the hustle.
Play board, card, or even outdoor games if the weather permits as a fun way to enjoy each other's company.
As you navigate this holiday season, be kind to yourself. Things are pretty stressful in the world right now, and if you are lucky enough to be able to light up your home with the soft glow of pumpkin spice candles, partake in delicious food, and spend time with loved ones, remember to appreciate these moments with compassion and appreciation for yourself and others. May we all find moments of peace, love, and genuine togetherness.