Bah Humbug: Keeping Your Relationship Merry When Holiday Traditions Clash

When one partner’s holiday traditions clash with the other’s, misunderstanding and tension between partners can result. Therapist’s advice on how to keep your relationship merry during the holiday season.A woman we’ll call Jenny grew up in a family where celebrating holidays was halfhearted at best. Most Thanksgivings involved making a long drive to observe the holiday with her aloof grandparents and a bevy of cousins she barely knew. Christmas was met with little fanfare; there was the perfunctory tree with gifts underneath, but even then Jenny’s strongest memory was over family members grumbling disappointment under their breaths that they didn’t really get what they wanted. And when she was in high school and her parents got divorced, both traditions changed: she spent most holidays with other people’s families.

The holiday memories of Jenny’s husband, Trey, could not have been more different. He had a grandmother who seemed to live for the holidays, planning the menus and shopping for decorations and gifts up to a year in advance. Trey talks about her execution of perfect holidays so often that Jenny cringes every time his grandmother’s name was mentioned.

It’s hardly news that the holidays can be depressing for some. With so much pressure to be joyful, we often feel left out or inadequate when we don’t feel caught up in the spirit. When that discrepancy enters the home, though, it can cause a lot of misunderstanding and tension between partners with opposing expectations. In the case of Trey and Jenny, Trey tends to get caught up in the planning and decorating he hardly notices Jenny’s lack of enthusiasm. He also feels irritated by her failure to pitch in, leaving him to do all the work.

As with so many relationship conflicts, the first step toward resolution is having an open dialog. Jenny has to tell Trey that she doesn’t share his warm fuzzies about the holidays because they were never a happy time for her family growing up. She should, at the same time, be careful not to mock his enthusiasm and love of tradition; he’s just as entitled to those as she is to her bah-humbug leanings.

But then what?

When one partner has a strong sense of tradition and the other does not, one thing to be wary of is letting the more enthusiastic person take over and impose their expectations on the other. While Trey feels he’s simply doing things a “normal” family ought to do to observe the season properly, Jenny feels resentful and defensive at being forced to partake in traditions that aren’t her own.

So what to do?

In cases like Jenny and Trey’s, there are at least two routes: One is to compromise, meaning Trey, who’s the better cook anyway, takes over the menu, while she agrees to decorate the tree if she’s willing and given free reign to do it her way — imperfections and all. And when relatives swoop in to start helping with the cooking and there are literally too many cooks in the kitchen (or just too many people in the house for her comfort), she’s also allowed to sneak off to a take some alone time, no questions asked.

The second suggestion is for the couple to create new traditions of their own —those that don’t belong to either person’s childhood but that they dream up together. Maybe it’s ordering Chinese food and playing Scrabble on Christmas Eve, or taking a walk in the snow early on Christmas morning. Use your imagination. The passing of holiday traditions from one generation to the next is a beautiful thing, but so is the creation of new ones that you can begin and enjoy together as a couple.

Mars & Venus: Is Communication Even Possible?

Let the counselors at OC Relationship Center help.It’s no wonder that the book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray is so popular. The book hits on some of the most important issues facing couples today. Communication is one of those issues, and if you struggle with communicating with your partner, chances are pretty good that this book would help you figure out what makes him or her tick.

Today, however, let’s talk a little bit about the differences between how men and women communicate.

Female Communication Style

If you’re a woman, you probably can relate to this scenario:

You come home from a long day at the office. You had a co-worker report you to your boss today, and she did it over an issue that wasn’t your fault. You have shared many lunch hours with this person, and you’ve even had her and her husband over for dinner a few times. You feel hurt, crushed, and even stabbed in the back.

You’re looking forward to being able to talk to your partner about your feelings. You’ve been holding back tears all day long, and you want nothing more than to have a good cry. However, when you begin telling him about your day, and how you feel, he immediately begins giving you advice about how to confront her. All you really wanted was to have a shoulder to cry on. You feel more alone now, than ever.

Male Communication Style

If you’re a man, this probably sounds familiar:

It’s been a long week, and now that you’ve placed your stamp of approval on the final proposal, you’re looking forward to having some time to just drink a beer and relax in front of the television. You deserve this time.

You walk through the door at home, and your partner meets you in the kitchen. Before you can even get the cap off your beer, she begins to ask you questions about your day, why you forgot to take the garbage out (again), and whether or not you think she should invite your parents over for dinner.

It’s all too much to take before you even get your shoes off, and you really wish she wouldn’t instantly start throwing questions at you the minute you get home. You shoot back a few short answers, hoping she’ll be satisfied, but she senses your annoyance. She asks you what’s wrong, and you storm off into your bedroom, wondering why you can’t be left alone for just fifteen minutes after you walk in the door at night.

Yes, the way men and women communicate with each other is very different. When we communicate with each other in the way that works for us, there are bound to be problems. The key is to figure out what your partner needs and provide it to them.

It takes compromise, patience and understanding to be able to communicate effectively with your partner. With a little time, and a lot of effort, you can break through the Mars vs. Venus barrier. When you do, you’ll find that your relationship is much happier, and you’re finally able to work together as a team.

That’s exactly how it was meant to be.

Sometimes it takes the insight of a professional in order to see things differently, and begin communicating effectively. If you’re facing obstacles in communicating with your partner, a relationship counselor can work with you to help you understand each other better.  Please give the counselors at OC Relationship Center a call today at 949-220-3211 or book via our online appointment scheduling.

How to respect your mate (even when you don’t want to)

Have you ever felt so angry, frustrated, or hurt by your mate that you feel you don’t even respect them—or want to? It’s a pretty rotten feeling. After all, deep down you know that mutual respect is one of the fundamental building blocks of a relationship.

Fortunately, at times when you might feel you’ve lost respect for your mate, it’s often illusory, temporary or both. But as with so many relationship struggles, it helps to put the situation in perspective by looking at the bigger picture.

Say your husband makes a classic, almost comical (but not) mistake like putting the car in drive instead of reverse when pulling out of a parking space, thereby slamming into a brick building and costing a fortune in repairs. He’s embarrassed and apologetic—while you’re ostensibly understanding and forgiving—but inside, you seethe. How could he do that? Didn’t he notice the car was moving forward before he slammed on the gas? Doesn’t he realize that money was going towards our summer vacation? And on and on. But when you’re honest with yourself, you know it could have been you—and probably has been. What about the time you left your new iPhone on the roof of the car and sped off? Or absentmindedly left the back gate open, so the dog ran out into the street and went missing for a week? We all regret the dumb mistakes we make in life, especially the ones that hurt others as well as ourselves. Now is the time to empathize, not criticize, and assure him it’s not the end of the world—because it’s not.

In other cases, a particularly heated argument may cause a mate to withhold respect as a form of self-defense. Who wants to respect a man or woman who has hurt their feelings, cast doubt on their judgment or otherwise caused offense? But you can reject your mate’s angry remarks without losing respect for your mate. When calmer heads prevail, you may realize that what felt like unfair criticism was intended as constructive advice. On the other hand, your mate may decide he or she was being a jerk and say so. Either way, arguments are temporary, and the best case scenario for no one to lose respect for the other before, during or after.

Meanwhile, whatever it is that causes you to question your respect for your mate, it’s rarely a good idea to share those feelings with anyone other than a trusted family member or friend—if at all. The last thing you want is for your anger about your husband smashing his front bumper or the ugly words exchanged during your latest argument to become grist for the gossip mill. That’s a sign of disrespect, and you can only imagine how you’d feel if the shoe was on the other foot and you learned your mate was discussing you like that with his buddies.

Finally, the most important lesson is that in spite of whatever ugliness has recently transpired between you, you can still remember all the wonderful, kind, smart things your mate has done in the past and will continue to do in the future. It doesn’t change who they are as a person. So unless you’re talking about a pattern of problems—or you find you simply can’t get over a mate’s mistake, in which case it might be time to seek help from a professional relationship counselor—he or she is still worthy of your love and respect, however grudgingly it’s given at the time. Remember: respect is not a short-term gift bestowed when you happen to feel like it. It’s part of a lifelong commitment, just like love itself.

Through marriage counseling at the Relationship Center of Orange County, we will work together to help you improve communication issues, increase trust, reduce arguing and enjoy your relationship again.