family

Navigating the Holidays as a Couple

If your families are anything like mine, your holidays are full of characters. That's not to say every family is made up of a bunch of degenerates, but the more people that get together at one time, the higher the risk of discomfort. Every person is different and has their own quirks and idiosyncrasies, but in most social situations, you choose which people you want to be around. You don't choose family! Even when you consider in-laws: while most people say you marry the whole family, I've never heard of anyone actually saying "I do" to Aunt Edna and Pop-Pop. They get thrown in as a bonus after the fact.What does this mean? It means you may soon find yourself in a situation where you are spending a significant amount of time in the company of people you find challenging at best, or repulsive at worst. I often experience couples in my office debating how to handle family members whether it's family dynamics, specific individuals, or what limits and boundaries are appropriate. The problem is, everyone's opinions differ on how they prefer to handle family. Here are a few tips and ideas I recommend:

  • Remember, your relationship is the primary family unit. If you are placing the opinions of your parent/sibling/cousin/grandma over the opinions or feelings of your partner, you are doing it wrong. As I feel should be the case in life in general, your attitude should be "me and my partner vs. X" and not "me vs. my partner" or "me and my family vs. my partner." You are on the same team!
  • Your partner is not used to your brand of crazy. Every family is a little nutty. The difference is, you've had decades to get used to your family's weirdness and might even think it's normal (it's not)! Be ready for your partner to not understand or be comfortable with everything and everyone at your family's gatherings. Be sensitive to this instead of defensive toward them.
  • Take breaks! If you're with family for more than a day or two, be sure and carve out time for you and/or your partner to have some alone time. Family can be exhausting simply due to the numbers and the conversation (and awkwardness) at times, so a little time away can do a lot of good.
  • If it's your family, be sure to stick close to your partner until he/she says they are comfortable being left alone with your family. Putting your partner on an island with strangers who might ask uncomfortable questions may be a bit much at first.
  • Recap your experience together each night. Consider it a status report of sorts. Go over the things you each found weird, what you thought was funny, and what was difficult for you. Try and process this without getting defensive, but instead validate your partner's experience.
  • Don't forget the positives! It's easy and oftentimes lazy to simply say "family is difficult." Be sure and spend time sharing the good with each other. Even if there are only a handful, try and look for the good moments in the day. Instead of looking at the crazy aunt as overbearing, look at her as quirky and a good source of entertainment. After all, isn't the primary reason we get into relationships so that we can now comment and laugh at other people with someone?!

Surviving Family Conflict During the Holidays

Fall and winter bring with them not only cooler weather and sweaters, but also a season of celebration. Across the nation, families are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Boxing Day, St. Lucia Day, Three Kings Day, Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and many more. These holidays and days of remembrance bring families together - for better or worse.As Dr. Hunter pointed out in her recent blog, the holidays do not always bring joy and happiness for those experiencing grief due to loss of a relationship or the death of a loved one. In addition to grief, people may dread the holidays because of conflict between family members, differing political views, or struggling to meet the expectations and demands of multiple family members.If family conflict is on the horizon for you this holiday season, there are things that you can do to make things less stressful and more enjoyable:First and foremost, Be Prepared for Some Conflict. If you usually have conflict when you get together with your family, it's a good idea to be prepared for it. I am not suggesting that you put on some armor and practice stinging comebacks in anticipation of a battle, but I am suggesting be realistic about your expectations. If your mother always criticizes your appearance or your aunt makes inappropriate comments, don't expect them to change their habits; just have a sense of humor about it and remind yourself of what you love about them. If that doesn’t work and you must respond, try the following things:

  • Respond with empathy. Try to remember that critical people often are trying to communicate something else, albeit ineffectively. Listen for what they are really saying.
  • Use “I” statements. Conflict makes people defend themselves and to go on the attack. Instead, use “I” statements (“I feel frustrated when…” instead of “You keep ruining everything,” as an example) so that the other person can understand your point of view instead of feeling attacked.
  • Look for compromise. If your family expects you to be at every holiday celebration and your partner’s family also wants you to be a part of their festivities, take turns. Or host one holiday celebration at your home so everyone can come.
  • Take a time out. If tempers flare and conversations get heated, take a break. Or if things just feel overwhelming, it’s okay to find a quiet spot to get away. If you are a parent of young children, you probably already know the “I am going to the bathroom, be back in a minute” trick to get a few moments of peace. Going for a walk is also a great way to escape for a few moments.
  • Don’t give up. Unless it is time to give up on the relationship, don’t give up on communicating.
  • Own what is yours. If there is anything in your own behavior that contributes to the conflict, own it and make an effort to monitor or control it.

Another option is to just say no to it all. If seeing family causes you great amounts of stress each year, it’s okay to say no sometimes. Celebrating with just your partner or kids can be a wonderful alternative to seeing people who make you feel consistently stressed. You may also choose to surround yourself with people who do make you feel good, such as friends. Either way, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to create your own traditions.This time of year is filled with holiday spirit and hope for a peaceful time. If you are struggling in any way, ask for help. You might even benefit from a few sessions with a therapist. Couples and family therapy may also be helpful for managing altercations and teach skills to resolve future conflict. 

Addiction: Like a Stream of Water...

Imagine a stream of water flowing down an area of land…The stream of water touches everything in its path.  Everything in the water’s path is affected some way.  Soil is eroded and rocks are weathered away.  Once the stream passes, the area of land that the stream passes is never the same.  Like a stream of water, addiction has a powerful effect not only on the person struggling from it… it also tragically affects everything is the addicted person’s life including the person’s loved ones.  People who struggle from addiction often do not understand how their actions also impact the ones they love.When addiction is full blown, an addicted person will prioritize their addictive habits over anything else, which includes separating themselves from their loved ones and the activities they used to enjoy.  A wife may suddenly feel alone in her marriage or a best friend will feel they have lost a good friend. A sister may suddenly feel like she can no longer trust her brother after finding out he stole from her to buy drugs.Friends and family may experience an array of negative emotions as a direct result of their loved one’s addiction.  Addicted individuals can be very dishonest about their drug use and will even lie to cover up their usage.  Friends and family end up losing trust, feeling disappointed and lied to, and the emotional toll of a seeing their loved one struggle with the addiction can be overwhelming.As addiction continues, family roles can start to change too.  Typically, someone falls into the enabler role – the person who unknowingly or knowingly contributes to the addicted person’s substance use.  Other family members or friends may end up also becoming caregivers and focus on the addicted person’s needs, including the mental and emotional health.  A husband may suddenly put his needs aside in order to get his wife to her counseling appointments and remind her to go to her AA meeting.The list continues of the impacts of a person’s addiction on their family and friends, including financially instability (because money is spent towards supporting the addiction), exposing kids to negative influences and instability, health concerns, job loss, legal consequences, and even divorce.If you or someone you love is struggling from addiction or related issues, please contact me for help! The road to recovery and a healthier future is possible!