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November 15, 2018

How to Have Drama-Free Holidays

Marilyn - December 2017

Holidays are often the times when all of our grievances with family members come to light. We’re crammed into other’s homes, or overwhelmed by the stress of hosting. Make this the year that you come out unscathed, with Jess’ advice from The Marilyn Denis Show.

When you can’t agree on the logistics of the season

“Every year around the holidays, my wife and I fight. We fight about the kids (we each have two from previous marriages), how much money to spend, where to spend Xmas eve and everything in between. She’s just always so stressed out (she hosts the big Xmas dinner) that it sets me off. How can we plan to have a more harmonious holiday season?”

Planning is everything when it comes to the holidays. Start as far out as possible — as soon as the first decorations appear at your local department store. Put your plans in writing — on a calendar on your fridge, for example. A hard calendar is better than a digital planner in your phone, because the digital planner can hold an unlimited number of plans, parties, and events without looking full while that little square on a calendar fills up quickly which helps from a psychological perspective to avoid over-planning.

And divide tasks ahead of time – again, in writing. You said “SHE HOSTS” which tells me that she’s probably doing a lot more work than you do — cooking, shopping, cleaning — in addition to her regular duties. Stress increases over the holidays and the intensity is greater for women, so step up and share in the tasks. Don’t “help” her; contribute as an equal partner. Note: 44 percent of women report an increase of stress during the holidays versus 31 percent of men — research attributes this discrepancy to the disproportionate share of unpaid labour that women are assigned during the holiday season (shopping, cooking, cleaning, hosting, planning, keeping the peace).

Managing expectations within your extended family

“My husband was raised Jewish and I was raised Catholic. We’re lucky that Christmas and Hanukkah fall on different days, but we run into trouble when it comes to gifts. His parents want to give them 8 gifts for Hanukkah and my parents want to put presents under the tree for the 25th. It’s getting out of control — not financially, but it feels like a competition and the kids are getting too spoiled. They’re only five and seven years old and they own more stuff than I owned in the first 30 years of my life. How do we manage this?”

Set a price limit for all gifts. The more money you have, the more important this is. Set more time aside for them to spend with their grandparents (not at a mall), so that they become connected to them in non-financial ways. One family I know hosts a grandparent and grandkids day of baking — no parents allowed. Focus on celebrating religion throughout the year with their grandparents. — not just over the holidays. The weekly Shabbat or Sunday mass, for example.

When you love your partner, but hate the gifts they get you

via GIPHY

“My husband is a terrible gift-giver. Not only does he put almost no effort into buying me a gift, but I’m tasked with buying gifts for everyone in his family — his parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, etc.. I’m not looking for a little blue box or anything extravagant, but how can I get him to step up to the plate?”

One option: buy your own gift. Tell him to wrap it up himself.

Another option: buy him a terrible gift to give him a taste of his own medicine. Kidding! Teach him about the five love languages so he understands that taking pleasure in receiving isn’t a matter of materialism, but a matter of feeling valued and appreciated. You cannot write it off with “I’m just not into gifts” if your partner considers thoughtful gifts a sign of love. You have to learn to speak their love language.

Every expert is going to tell you to talk to him about your needs and how his lack of gift giving makes you feel, but it’s not about communication — it’s about effective communication. Think about how you’re approaching this topic. Oftentimes we wait until we’re frustrated to speak up and then we don’t communicate effectively. We make snide remarks and complaints instead of requests. “I’d feel so loved if you picked something thoughtful for me” will produce more positive results than “You never buy me anything!”.

When your get-togethers always end up in arguments

“My brother-in-law makes the holidays so stressful. He always seems to be picking a fight with my husband and his other two siblings and it makes every holiday get-together so tense. How can I be more supportive of my husband while also enjoying myself over the holidays?”

Good for you for looking out for your husband first. I hope you’re also looking out for yourself, as it must be stressful for you too. And if you really want to lower his stress levels, you need to differentiate your experience from his — that is, don’t let his stress be your stress, because if you do, it’s harder to care for him. (This applies regardless of gender.)

Plan a family event that includes some sort of activity — skating, board games, a skit (put on by the kids in your family) or a walk in the snow so that they can have shoulder-to-shoulder conversations instead of intimate face-to-face ones. We all want more intimate (face-to-face) relationships, but you’re not their therapist, so it’s not your job to work it out.

Take your husband aside once an hour for 60 seconds of pleasure — a kiss, a hug, a hand massage. You’ll make him feel important and hopefully boost his serotonin and oxytocin levels in the process to ease his stress. This is a little thing that goes a very long way.

Keeping everyone happy when in a blended family

“We are a blended family — I have 3 kids and my husband has 2 all under age 10. The holidays (especially Christmas day) are such a headache running the kids from one place to another and fighting over how much time they spend with each side (including 4 sets of grandparents). Help!”

via GIPHY

The best advice I’ve received from parents in the same situation is to make them come to you. Families across the country are doing this with exes in the same room on Christmas morning.

Spread it out. The 25th is just a date. Your kids under ten don’t care if they see you and celebrate on the 23rd, 24th or 25th, so split up the days instead of running all over town. If the kids can accept this (they will!) the adults should be able to as well.

Use Skype, FaceTime or another video conference app to stay connected on Xmas morning. You don’t have to pick one set of grandparents if you stay at your own house. You can Skype them in to watch the festivities.