Ah, the holidays -- that lovely time of year full of peace and goodwill, and sentiments of good cheer issued at every turn. Well, maybe not quite. Despite people's best intentions, the holidays bring with them not only the promise of merrymaking, but also the potential for domestic conflict. Bev Behar, a registered marriage and family therapist based in Thornhill, Ont., shares 10 ways to find domestic bliss during the holidays.
1. Lend a helping hand
Most of us are busy, busy, busy -- on a good day. However, Behar points out that many people feel more overextended over the holidays, because workloads increase dramatically. "Share responsibilities and chores around the holidays," she advises. "Pitch in and be fair."
2. Say a kind word
When your partner lends a helping hand, be sure to speak up and demonstrate your gratitude. "Show appreciation and give accolades to your partner for things he's done," Behar says. Also, "Let him know in a positive way if you need more positive feedback than he's giving you."
3. Be respectful
Merging the holiday traditions of two individuals can cause tension, so be patient when your partner offers up her version of "how things should be." "Think pluralistically," says Behar. "When you're respectful to each other, finding creative solutions is easy."
4. Be prepared
"Be prepared for strain on everyone's parts, and watch for 'stress reactions,'" says Behar. "Does one of you get lazier, the other one more controlling than usual during busy times? Try to bring your partner's attention to his behaviour gently and respectfully so you can both try to understand what's going on."
5. Choose your battles
Where will you spend Christmas Eve? Where will you spend Christmas Day? This question often poses a problem. "Extended families are usually full of quirks, in-fighting and limitations," says Behar. "Choose your battles carefully and remember to count your blessings before getting done in by family squabbles."
Page 1 of 2 -- Discover four more secrets to surviving the holidays, including tips on better communication and how to deal with family members, on page 2
6. Understand family ties
While you may understand and accept all of your own family's eccentricities, it can be difficult to accept the behaviours of your partner's family. "It's normal to be disappointed and annoyed with your own family members, and at the same time to be defensive and angry when your partner criticizes them," says Behar. "Tread carefully," she cautions.
7. Keep an open mind
"Don't expect that you can totally predict your feelings and your partner's based on last year," says Behar. "As time passes, we all go through different stages and considerations. Have an open mind."
8. Have a game plan
Do you or your partner have a tendency to step out of line after one drink too many, for example? "Prepare ahead if you anticipate that alcohol will be a problem," Behar advises. "Talk about it ahead of time and have a plan you're both comfortable with. Omit alcohol if that will help." This goes for other sources of potential tension.
9. Cut corners
"Don't wear yourself and your partner out," says Behar. "Cut corners where you need to, and emphasize some aspects that will make you feel good. If making a special centrepiece makes you feel proud, that's great -- but don't make yourself sick trying to have the whole event look like Martha Stewart's Thanksgiving. She has a large team behind her and you don't." It's OK not to be perfect.
"After the holiday is over, let each other know how you felt about it in a way that respects family loyalties, allows for differences, and shows appreciation," says Behar.
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