This time of year can be a prime time for relationship conflict. Anxieties can be high over family relationships, planning and other things. The truth is, you and your partner both want the holidays to be happy. Here are some simple reminders to help you stay on track for a happy holiday season.
1. Remind yourself of your partner’s value
Take a little bit of time to remind yourself that your partner is your choice. You have selected this person out of all others to share your life. They have done the same to choose you. What is it that you value about them? What are things that you take for granted? Think about what brought you together and what you admire when you observe them with others. This will help put you in a state of appreciation. It keeps us positive. You want to be mindful to make their holiday as happy as you would like them to make yours. Maybe you think you don’t have this kind of power? You do. Your mood and the way you interact with them greatly influences their mood.
2. Be your best self
Remind yourself of who you are at your core. Holidays can be a time when we get away from our center. You may be engaging in unhealthy behaviors: drinking or eating too much, gambling, or being angry due to extra stressors. Think about the things you are doing and thinking that are unhealthy. After becoming mindful of them, commit to stopping or reducing that behavior. Spend some time thinking about your best qualities. When I am really at my best, what am I thinking and doing and being? Reconnect and recommit to these ideals.
3. Be prepared for conflict areas that are predictable
Couples often have the same arguments over and over. This can be especially true around the holidays. The irony of this is that both people continue to do the same thing each time, completely disregarding the fact that the things they do, don’t work. This year, take some time to think about situations and conflicts you are fearing this holiday season. Acknowledge to yourself that certain situations will come up and come up with a game plan for reducing that conflict when it arises.
For example, if you know your partner will be anxious before guests arrive and will start snapping at you, be ready for this. Ordinarily when they snap at you, you respond with anger. Your anger then triggers them to lash out or shut down making the situation worse for both of you. This time, try “I know it’s important to you that everything goes well tonight, it is to me also, it will be okay.” Then follow with “Can you please not speak so sharply to me?” Because they know from your first response that you 1) understand and 2) are on the same page, they will respond positively to your request.
4. Respond only to the current situation
Couples often go into what we call trauma mind when they are in conflict. This is when the current disagreement triggers a past similar (and often worse) conflict. The response then becomes more exaggerated than the situation seems to call for.
This can be scary and confusing to our partner. We may bring up the past thinking we are further supporting our argument. “You always do this!” or “This is just like the time” This leads to a defensive response from our partner, and makes the situation worse. If you are able to only address the situation at hand, it will be a more productive interaction.
Ask yourself before speaking:
1. What did my partner do or not do that caused me to be upset?
2. What is my unmet need?
3. How am I feeling?
Use only these 3 things in what you say. For example “When you forgot to get eggs on the way home, I was unable to make the Christmas cookies. This made me feel hurt and like you don't care.”
This way you are letting them know the issue and how it affected you. There is no assumption or judgment on why they didn’t get the eggs, nor is there a judgment that it is part of an ongoing negative pattern. By keeping it about the current situation, this allows your partner to view it as a resolvable issue. When it’s about the past, he/she may feel overwhelmed and like there’s nothing they can do.
5. It’s only an argument if you join in
Finally, remember that it takes two to argue. If he or she says something hurtful, take a pause.
You don’t have to respond. At least you don’t have to respond right away. Our brain often
feels like we have to respond right away to make the situation right, but this doesn’t usually work.
Your partner will be far more receptive to you bringing up the conversation later when emotions have calmed. This is not to say that you cannot say anything in the moment. Simply be mindful of when it goes past an exchange of information. Do not allow yourself to then engage in a nonsensical debate. Remember, you have nothing to prove, and the argument will only serve to make things feel worse to both of you.
Following these five steps will help you to minimize stressful conflicts and instead mindfully enjoy a great holiday season with your significant other.
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With 25 years of experience working with couples as a licensed clinical counselor, Tim O'Donohue lays out an effective plan to get 100% back in your relationship.
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