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Friday, October 26, 2012

Marriage and Family Matters

Setting the stage for good holidays

By Lisa Pisha    
     Every year, immediately following Halloween, my office begins to bustle and  phones begin ringing with people who are looking to figure out how to get through the holiday season. This is the time of year that is the most exciting and stressful for so many people, and often upon talking through it, the stress and negative emotion associated with this time of year has been around for a very long time, even starting in childhood.
     The holidays are a sure thing - we’re sure they’ll come every year, and so the anticipation builds waiting for them to come around again, and again. It’s the same kind of stress, every year, over and over, until something changes.
     A recent article in Psychology Today about life lessons detailed the real truths about interacting in healthy relationships versus unhealthy ones. The article wasn’t about the holidays, but it solidified the importance on our health, of having positive relationships (which I think rings true at all times of the year), stating “the higher the quantity and quality of your relationships, the longer you live.”
     Well no pressure there. But, our relationships are one of the reasons I see stress being so profound around this time of year: they’re not satisfying in ways that give back to us, and most people have a hard time continuing to water seeds that just won’t grow.
     It’s not too early to begin envisioning the kind of holiday you want to have, the way you might want to handle certain relatives you don’t have to see too often or situations that are less than comfortable. This also includes learning to foster the relationship you have with others as a limited one, taking and giving what you can, when you can and learning to be satisfied with the relationship being “good enough.”
     This might mean having tough conversations with your spouse or other family members or looking inward to see what you might be able to do differently this season. No doubt there are so many things to think about when it comes to this time of year, and many more ways of thinking about them. Yet again, we come back to the relationships that have an impact on us and the choices we have in handling them.
     The holidays can feel the same as last year and the years before, or you can start looking into what you want to keep, and what you’re willing to let go of this year. Again, the holidays are a sure thing, and while that can put the pressure on, it can also have the advantage of taking the pressure off. If you try something and it doesn’t work out, they’ll be here the same time next year to do something differently.
     Start the season off by having an honest conversation with yourself about what it is that you’d hoped would’ve been different this year. Is it the driving all over the place? The gift-giving? Is it seeing Uncle Joe make an idiot of himself again in front of the kids? Can you withstand it without feeling the negative impact of stress and having that trickle down to the rest of your family members? Or is it just too much for you to bear this year? How about the pressure? Are the 10 family traditions that involve all of the long days away from home feeling like too much? The expectations you perceive that others place on you may have a part to play here, as do your own expectations. What do you feel people expect of you versus what are you willing to give/do/offer? Again, that honest conversation should break it down for you in terms of identifying where the problems lie, which will hopefully give you a path to travel down in terms of thinking about a new approach.
     Lastly, don’t forget the legitimate reason of “it’s just not comfortable for me.” There’s a reason it’s not comfortable, a reason you don’t want to relive it, and if you’re looking for a justifiable reason to change things, look no further. Harness the feeling you have and try to see it in all of it’s different dimensions to gain an understanding of it. By looking into yourself and your personality traits, you may just find that the change you’re looking for this season doesn’t have to be justified by anyone else but you. Before the holiday season begins to buzz too loudly, take some time now to imagine what yours will look like as you envision a happier, healthier way to spend these special times.

Lisa Pisha is a licensed marriage and family therapist who works with individuals, couples and families in Naperville.

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