The holidays can be a challenging time in our relationship lives. Some can feel left out or may not have close friends or family near where they live. Some will spend time with extended family, which can be its own challenge.
After many years of helping people navigate the relationship dimension of the holidays, here are my top tips to help your relationships thrive this season:
Whether you’re an individual who may feel lonely during the holidays, a couple or a family making plans with extended family, I recommend that you place a high priority on your own self-care and enjoyment. This might look like taking time off of work, which can be used to relax, restore and connect with those who matter most. If your extended family can be challenging, I recommend blending those commitments with time that enhances your well-being and to which you look forward. Feel free to say “no” to the pressure of getting together with others who may stress you out, and instead, do something that’s fun for you to do alone or with your partner. This goes for families as well! Feel free to book a fun activity together that only involves people who will enhance your time together.
If you have a partner, talk about what’s important to each of you in terms of how you want to feel during the holidays, not just what you’re going to do. Then, blend those goals to choose activities that are conducive to those feelings. For example, if one of you wants to de-stress and relax, and the other wants to bond with nieces and nephews, what blend of plans allows you to each have the feeling you want over the holidays? Partner goals can be balanced with schedules and logistics or even a compromise where you combine two separate activities back-to-back, like spending a few days with family before a couple of days just by yourselves.
Sometimes you have to set boundaries with family members or friends that want you to do certain things you don’t want to do. It’s important to prioritize what you need, but people can easily feel rejected over holiday plans, so aim to set boundaries while validating those relationships. Let others know you care about them without giving in to plans that don’t feel fun. Tell them they matter to you and that you’ll make time for them, but that you need to prioritize other things this year. Let them know you need some extra time with your partner or to de-stress on your own. Others can understand that we may have specific needs, but they may feel unimportant if you don’t reassure your relationship with them at the same time.
If you’re single or in a city without family, let your friends know that you’d like to stay connected during the holidays. Your friends may have time for lunch, an occasional walk and might even invite you to join them for some of their activities. Find out which friends are staying in town, and make at least one plan with each. This helps cut into the loneliness some feel during the holidays. Your friends won’t be able to connect with you if they don’t know you’re by yourself! Many people assume their friends are busy with family and travel during the holidays, so make your situation known to those who care about you so your holidays can be more social and fun.
Go beyond traditional New Year’s resolutions and get existential. This is not just, “I want to lose weight” or “I’m going to exercise more.” It’s a chance to get playful and fantasize about how you might reinvent your life. In therapy, we often exaggerate ideas and dreams to capture stream-of-consciousness insights about the things we want in life, and you can do the same with yourself and others. If you could plan an ideal year, what parts of you do you wish to express more, to what do you want to dedicate more time, and what relationships do you want to be deeper? You can ask others playful questions like, “If you could be any version of you this coming year, who would you be?”
These relationship tips will help protect your mental and relational health over the holidays and ensure time to relax, bond with those you care about and have fun, which is what the holidays are all about! Don’t agree to do things out of pressure, guilt or because you “have to.” Set a plan for what will be joyful, connecting and restorative, and give yourself and your family permission to craft a great holiday this year!
About the Author
John Howard, LMFT is a therapist at PRESENCE and the author of “More than Words: The Science of Deepening Love and Connection in Any Relationship,” due out Feb. 1, 2022.