Bracing For Santa: Holiday Performance Anxiety In The Coupledom

Anticipating Complications: If you notice, as the days darken and talk of turkeys and Black Friday fill the air, that your insides have begun to retract and breathing has become a more shallow affair, perhaps you are suffering from Holiday Performance Anxiety. And if the communication between you and your partner about when to leave for Grandma’s house, what gifts to buy the children or how big a tree to purchase this year is laced with irritation or edged in annoyance, then the pressure of holiday prep is upon your Coupledom.

Money and Relatives: Just what are the biggest, most aggravating holiday complications? Well they are probably innumerable. After all, according to Paul Simon there are at least fifty ways to leave your lover, and there must be at least that many to ruin your holiday. But what leaps to my clinical mind are these: “Which relatives to visit and for how long?” and “Just how much money can be spent this holiday without losing the farm, the mortgage or the kids’ college education?” Under each of those two general categories are multiple subcategories: “When to leave for the in-laws, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?” “Do we bring the dog?” “Whose turn is it to make the Christmas cookies?” “How do we deal with my stepchildren, your stepchildren and crazy cousin Eddie?”

The Holiday Joys of Triangulation: The maternal party’s mother will be insulted if we don’t include her sister and crazy Uncle Harry. “But he spoils every Christmas by getting drunk.” “Oh yeah, well, we put up with your brother-in-law every Easter, and he ruins the egg hunt by scooping up all the eggs for himself so the kids don’t get to find any.” “Well, he is disabled, he just doesn’t get it.” Then there is the material version of the discordance. “Should we give gifts to grown up nieces and nephews or their offspring? What’s the age cut off here? And what about the tipping? The mailman (isn’t that illegal?) The UPS driver, the garbage man and the manicurist, the cleaning lady, the doorman, and don’t forget the teachers’ gifts.” “What am I, made of money?

Funding Christmas in A Tough Economy: Likely there will be different points of view as to how many and just what gifts should be purchased for the children and others. A conversation, perhaps with a spreadsheet and a giant signpost that spells out COMPROMISE hanging somewhere nearby, is a wise and worthy move. As I have described in previous posts, there is always a third option if the suggestion of each partner is unacceptable to the other. Respecting each family of origin’s philosophy of gift giving and trying to cobble together a tolerable alternative when not getting exactly what you want allows the creation of a mutually agreed upon vision of holiday spending that can be put in place each year. Why not? If there is someone who is in charge of the family bookkeeping, then he/she might have a gross figure in mind, which provides a basis to begin the allocations. If not, create one together. Facts and figures can help ground the process in a reality of sorts.

Pressure: The holiday season is full of pressure, but divorced families are particularly vulnerable to the poison of triangulation, with seemingly impossible choices of how much time to give to multiple in-law couples. After all, if one member of the Coupledom has divorced and remarried parents, that can add a whole other set of grandparents to the mix. If both are products of divorce, then you have two sets of added grandparents to insult. As my son would say during his toddler days, A MESS! A mess in the making, indeed. Usually there is the closeness factor that influences and confuses. Certainly one set of the divorced parents is easier to be with and offers cozier moments and more attention to the grandkids. The other set may be more distant or dysfunctional, saddled with alcoholic behaviors (very common) or other forms of alienation.

Forty-Eight Little Hours: How can twenty-four to forty-eight hours of sacred holiday tradition be divided between all the vying parties? Well they can’t be and if the Coupledom is unified in their decision about that allocation, well, a united force is stronger than a divided force. So brainstorm potential solutions together and always look for the third option if nothing obvious and unanimous surfaces.

Smart Holiday Planning: It is kind of funny that all the planning that couples typically do going into the holidays rarely includes strategies to deal with the pressures ahead, pressures that bear down on the relationship and are oh so predictable but predictably remain unnamed or avoided. Kind of like not saying Voldemort in a Harry Potter movie, “he who must not be named,” as if it will unleash dark forces. Yet it is just the opposite. By not identifying trouble spots ahead, how can you put in place plans to avoid them?

Preventing Predictable Snafus: I have written a number of articles on holiday strategies, some are available by clicking on the links above. You can find a collection of them under Holiday Toolkit. They all prescribe the same course of action. Get with the program early and if a conversation about preventing the predictable snafus of the past cannot be handled civilly and usefully together, bring in an expert. This is actually a wise wizard’s way of making the holiday season a happy one for your Coupledom. To coin a phrase from a clever friend, you don’t want to be a Coupledumb again this year.

Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012


2 Responses to “Bracing For Santa: Holiday Performance Anxiety In The Coupledom”

  1. Walter Donway

    This column of Jill’s is SO on-target as anyone knows who has struggled through the Christmas-New Year holidays toward the happiness that we seek. It is useful to be reminded that the pressures will be there, and, if they overwhelm the pleasures, what is the point of it all? Happy holidays to everyone!


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