12 Quick Steps To Avoid A Disappointing Christmas
[How To Find Your Partner's Holiday Sweet Spot]
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Every year I think that this time my husband and I will be on the same page about getting ready for Christmas. The tension is already rising as I am trying to get the house in shape, buy gifts, answer invites to parties, and get food ready. I thought that we had agreed to do this together, but here we are again with him distant and irritable.
He finally said yesterday, "Christmas is always yours around here, not mine." What do I do? --Headed Down The Homestretch of Holiday Time
What do you do? Don't believe everything you think. You see, the mind is designed to make what you focus on, in your imagination, feel real even when it isn't. From your question it looks like Holiday Christmas time is very special to you and you have a very clearly defined way you want to experience this time of year. It sounds like you are so focused on your "image" of what you want things to be in your thoughts that you are out of touch with one of the most important people in your life: your husband.
Stop Kidding Yourself About Holidays!
So by strongly believing what you are thinking without investigating what is really going on with your husband, covers over the real problems and the same thing keeps happening every year: What he wants for his part of Holiday Christmas time is not showing up in your thoughts and actions.
So, what to do?
Step 1. Since this is the homestretch of the holiday and your plans are in full gear, I don't suggest you try and shut them down at all. Especially since you don't know what his hurt is about. So I suggest you take a deep breath and take a step back.
Step 2. Go to Starbucks or somewhere away from home. Take out your ink pen and on a napkin draw a line down the middle. On the left side write down what you THOUGHT was clear with your husband about your ideas and actions around this time of year regarding decorations, parties, the kids, you and he. You may need two or three napkins.
Step 3. On the right side of the napkins, after each item on the left, write down the answer to this question: Is this really the way it is? Is this actual ? Is there ANY indication from him, words, actions or moods that have happened that makes this not true?
Step 4. For our purposes here, "true" means ACTUAL OBSERVABLE ACTIONS AND BEHAVIORS. Not your thoughts about this or that, right or wrong, fair or unfair. Just reflect on your own behavior toward him regarding Christmas and the preference he has told you over the years and this year.
Step 5. Now, on a separate napkin--and please buy a drink there to help defray the complementary napkins you are using for this exercise--go down each item and write what is actual about your assumptions about past Christmas Holiday times including this one. Write down the TRUTH of what has happened and how he might be feeling hurt.
Step 6. Sit with your responses. Feel the emotion that comes and go. You don't need to fix anything here. You are just allowing yourself to get out of your head and into the reality of what has and has not actually occured during this time of year in your marriage.
Step 7. Once you feel done as you can be. Text your husband this, "Let's Start Over? A moment to talk about this Christmas 2nite?"
Step 8. That night, approach him, away from the ears of others and say, "Honey, I really have missed something this Christmas, and that would be you. Please tell me how I have hurt you this year or in years past that makes you feel that I am hogging Christmas Holiday for myself around."
Step 9. SHUT UP. Zip it. LISTEN. Don't defend. Take notes if you need to. You will need to go back to Starbucks the next day and sort this out.
Step 10. Once he finishes, thank him. DON'T give feedback. DON'T make excuses. You are listening for what you missed, overlooked, or mistakenly bullied him about this season. Tell him you want to really consider his feedback and you want to see what is possible to repair this.
Step 11. Go back to Starbucks or maybe Peets, and look over all your napkins for a while, with the feedback from him, and face what has happened. Get a NEW napkin out and write down 1 2 and 3 in a column. Starbucks napkin list Identify and write down the bull-eye of his hurt over the 1, 2, and 3.
Write down three possible things you are going to offer him to help get you both on a REAL page and a new Holiday Christmas direction. What you are doing is actually continuing that conversation that started this question. It is an ongoing Holiday conversation that never ends and is never fully resolved. There are just too many factors, wants, wishes, preferences, old hurts at Holiday time. Holiday time is always a work in progress. If you hit the bulls-eyes of your partner's sweet spot in his heart, so much of the other troubles and problems are forgiven and allowed to pass. This is about you being mature about the hardest parts of marriage and holidays. And the greatest gift you can give him this year, is in Step 12.
Step 12. Do it.
Remember, just because you think it or feel it, does not make it actual. When your thoughts, images, emotions and imaginations become more important than your actions toward those you love, hurt happens. When you do an inventory of what is actually going on, and offer good will to your partner in fresh aware actions, peace can happen--even during the most disappointing time of the year!
Happy Holidays, now let's get to it!
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Don Elium, MA MFT practices individual and couple counseling in his office in Walnut Creek, CA,
San Francisco Bay Area.