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  • Writer's pictureShannon Johnson

Do the "Shoulds" Steal Your Holiday Magic?

Yes, I admit it. I am one of those people who loves the holidays. I literally pick a Christmas wrapping theme each year, and I spend the fall trying to find the perfect gifts. Brad has spent a sizable portion of his life wandering the Christmas aisles with me.

That being said, I am very aware that the stressors and emotions people experience during the holidays can be overwhelming. While I love many parts of the season, I am not immune to the pressures. For the purpose of this blog, let’s focus on the holidays and your relationship.

Many of us grew up with specific holiday traditions. Some people travel while some stay home. Some focus on food and family, and some focus on adventure. Some keep it minimal while others go to extremes. Chances are, you left childhood with ideas on how you want to spend the holidays. If you have fond memories, you probably keep some of the same traditions alive. If your memories aren’t so fond, you most likely veer in a new direction.

Now, in all things relationship, we are combining all of those needs, wants, and desires with our partner's. To make it more complicated yet, many couples find themselves agreeing to things because they feel they should do them.

In many therapy sessions, this topic brings a lot of conflict to relationships. Maybe the couple fights over which extended family to spend time with. Maybe one person can't say no to their family, even if it means fighting with their spouse. Maybe the traditions that are important to one partner get abandoned for the other's traditions. The overall theme tends to be that couples feel pulled by the shoulds.

In order to create a holiday that is meaningful to your family, sit down as a couple and figure out what is important to both of you. Most likely, you will bring in old traditions and create new.

Here comes the tricky part: once you have figured out what works for you and your nuclear family, you have to set the boundaries needed to create your vision. This might mean letting go of the shoulds and saying, "No, thank you."

For many people, boundaries aren't easy, because setting them might stir up emotion in the other party. However, if you continue to sacrifice your own relationship happiness for others, you may end up with bigger life issues!

Now, let’s chat about gifting. As I explained during our Love Language discussion, gifting is one of my primary languages. I truly enjoy spending time each year finding a meaningful gift for my loved ones.

However, gifting generally takes money, which is always a topic for rich discussion! Some people find gifts within their budget, and some buy gifts on credit. Some are crafty and give beautiful handmade gifts, and some prefer Amazon. This can easily be an area where the shoulds may take over and cause conflict.

I encourage you to take the time to decide, as a couple, how to handle gifting. How much time, money, and energy do you want to put out there? Find what is meaningful to you, and if needed, compromise.

For some, family gatherings can be stressors. A few simple shifts can make all the difference. For example, having your own lodging can give the space needed to have breaks. Check in with each other before you commit to plans with other family members. Take a walk or head out to lunch as a couple to re-calibrate.

As you approach the holiday season, remember to honor your partner's needs. The key is having each other’s backs. Find ways to support each other in spending the holidays in a meaningful way. Check out and our Facebook page to stay up to date on relationship tips and tools. Relationship-care is essential.

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