Christmas Traditions: Should You Break the Yearly Tie? Itís not easy, but using these tips will help you and your spouse make a clean break from holiday engagements. BY SHARON M. RIVKIN, M.A., M.F.T.
In order to break a cycle you need to change things up, such as going for a walk when your sister-in-law does that thing that makes you upset.
“ Breaking the tie of long-standing holiday traditions isnít easy. It takes thought, preparation, and determination.”
Do Christmas commitments cause you pain and frustration? Or do they cause conflict between you and your spouse? Between you and your family?
For instance, your tradition is Christmas dinner with your husbandís family. However, every single year you have to deal with your sister-in-law who is rude and insensitive, and you donít want to deal with it anymore; but if you say something to your husband it might start an argument. Or if your husband is supportive of your feelings toward your sister-in-law, it may cause a rift with the family to break the Christmas dinner tradition.
So do you have choice, or do you have to stick with tradition?
Here are four steps to help you determine if you should stick with tradition or break the yearly tie:
1. Admit your mixed feelings. When reflecting on past holidays, you realize that you dread going to the family dinner, and while youíre there, youíre miserable. And when you get home, youíre feeling a combination of hurt and anger, and you say to yourself, "Iím never doing this again." And then you do. So this year, donít let the obligation of tradition override your feelings of discontent about the situation. Instead, really remember how miserable you were last year. Acknowledge your feelings because if or when theyíre ignored, stress and anxiety rises and, most importantly, your feelings are important signals that could change a difficult situation.
2. Talk about the problem. After you have examined and acknowledged your mixed feelings, itís time to discuss them with your spouse. It can go probably one of two ways: (1) either your partner wll be receptive to your feelings and strategize and problem-solve with you, or (2) your partner will be upset that youíre thinking of breaking the long-time tradition. Whatever you anticipate the reaction to be, it is still important for you to take the risk of expressing your feelings because this could be the year that you actually do something different. (For purposes of this article, weíre going to assume that your spouse is supportive of your feelings.) After youíve talked, itís time to troubleshoot a solution, which could include a game plan for continuing with tradition or breaking the yearly tie, but with the understanding that there will be consequences.
3. Develop a game plan. You may decide to continue the tradition, but with the help of your spouse, you could develop a game plan in advance to put into play when things get tough with the sister-in-law. Perhaps she purposely ignores you during conversations. If your husband is around when this happens, you could give him a signal that means "sheís doing it again!" Then, he could say, "Letís go for a walk," or "letís check the turkey" or he could just come over to you and start talking. Your husbandís supportive gesture may help you feel less like a victim and may even evoke a change in your sister-in-lawís behavior. When you change the homeostasis (the habit that has come to be the norm), the whole situation changes.
4. The consequences of breaking tradition. People struggle with breaking tradition because, after all, there are other family members present whom we really love to see. However, sometimes the yearly misery overrides the good parts of the event. So if youíve decided to break tradition and do something different, be aware that there may be consequences. Talk with your spouse about the worst-case scenario that your breaking tradition might cause and be prepared for that. For instance, feelings may get hurt, and it may shake things up in the family, but if weíre prepared for the outcome and willing to deal with the consequences, weíre usually able to handle whatever comes up because we arenít surprised or blindsided by the occurrence.
Breaking the tie of long-standing holiday traditions isnít easy. It takes thought, preparation and determination. When weíre afraid of consequences, it often stops us from changing. And if we donít risk changing, we often stay stuck in destructive patterns that cause us stress, anxiety, and pain.
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of "Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy" and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Reader's Digest, Time.com, Yahoo!News.com, WebMD.com, and DrLaura.com. Sharon has appeared on TV, was quoted on The Insider TV show, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. She has also appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio and is the "Resident Shrink" on Coach Ron Tunick's radio show, The Business of Life, on KKZZ 1400AM. For more information, please visit her website at www.sharonrivkin.com.