Holiday-Proof your Relationships

The holidays could be the happiest of times and most stressful of times. We all hope for this season to be a healing and restoring time for our families. A time to gather together and celebrate the relationships most important to us. Sometimes the holidays are just that, other times we find ourselves utterly overwhelmed and simply exhausted. Here is what you need to know about the season and what you can do to holiday-proof your relationships.

In the counseling field, one fact is known to be true–the holiday season is one of the most challenging times for families. Statistics and divorce lawyers identify the first three months of the year as the highest rate of divorces filed during the year. For therapists, the months following the Christmas holidays have proven to be the busiest of times. So, why is this the case?

There are several factors that play into the disintegration of families during this season; yet, it is important to note that oftentimes, these factors seem to exasperate existing issues rather than create them. Many couples experience challenges as they go through the holidays. People often reflect on the past year. They evaluate their level of happiness and the quality of their existing relationships. In addition, issues emerge concerning the logistics of the holidays: how the family will spend the season; who they will be with; where they will be; and the preparations for these gatherings, etc… So, the compounding effect of the holiday stressors and existing issues could take a toll on the strongest of relationships, leaving a smaller survival rate for already fragile families.

In life, we have to “proof” many things. During extreme summer, we keep plants watered to prevent death or wildfires. When your baby starts crawling, you baby proof the home. Christmas holiday should not be treated differently. We all need to holiday-proof our relationships in three categories: couples/marriage, in-laws, and children.

Couples: Here are some practical ways to holiday-proof your marriage relationship:

  1. Identify the Existing Issues: As issues come up, identify persisting/reoccurring issues and the best way to address them. Discuss if you will attempt resolving them on your own or with the help of a professional and agree on the time to do so. Christmas Eve or Christmas Day is not the optimum time to have a “yelling match,” throw the “D” (divorce) word around, or a time to consult with a divorce lawyer.
  2. Communicate Skillfully: Brush up on your communication and conflict resolution skills. Choose your words wisely, once they are said, you cannot take them back.
  3. Keep Things in Perspective: Major in the majors and minor in the minors. Pick your battles wisely.
  4. Protect your Family from Financial Burdens: Look at the long term effect of your decisions. When you set the budget, stick to it. One of the two leading causes of divorce is due to financial issues.
  5. Explore the fun of Creating New Traditions: Christmas doesn’t have to be as stressful as you have experienced in the past or as we are told by the media. Exercise creativity and imagination. You can do what you want as long as you (as a family unit) agree on it. This is excellent for newly wedded couples, especially those that are spending the holidays together for the first time.
  6. Have Fun with One Another: Remember the real meaning of Christmas and the biggest blessing of all.

In-laws: Couples not only have to manage their own family, but they also have to manage their extended families, which adds to the burden and the break down that takes place during the holidays.

  1. Communicate Clearly with One Another: Communicate to both sides of your families what your plans are so you (as a family) and them (as in-laws) can plan accordingly.
  2. Do not Attempt to Please Everyone: Realize that you can not please all. So do your best, but “don’t push it” at the expense of your own family.
  3. You have Limited Time: Realize that if you say “yes” to a certain commitment/event, you are also saying “no” to another.
  4. Be Aware/Conscientious: Know what is expected of you to avoid disappointment or family-feuds; better to ask than to regret later.
  5. Play by the Rules: Understand each family’s old traditions and watch for things considered “inappropriate” to prevent offending an in-law. If you are going to an in-law’s house, respect their traditions even if they are different from yours.
  6. Set Your Own Desires Aside (Be Thoughtful): If you are having other family members over, or in-laws, to participate in your celebration, be sensitive and accommodating to their beliefs, needs, and financial situations. Do not try to force your own traditions or desires on them. This level of consideration will pay off in the long run.
  7. Be Open: Remember that the holidays could be a healing time, and in the spirit of the meaning of this holiday, a time to rebuild a broken bond.


Children: It is important to also holiday-proof your family unit, not just your marriage relationship; so, for married couples with children, here are some helpful tips:

  1.  Give: Explore the joy of giving and teach/model/practice this behavior with your kids.
  2. Gifts are not Grades: Remind your children that the gifts they receive from “Santa” are in no way a reflection of their behavior during the year, lest they compare what you can afford to their friends’ (or what they had secretly hoped for), thus, misinterpreting your message.
  3. Gifts do not Reflect Worth: Also, remind them that these gifts in no way define their worth so that their identities do not become entangled in material possession.
  4. Set a Method to the Madness: There is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday. Only what works for your family is considered right, and what would harm your family short or long term is considered wrong.
  5. Understand Gifts (It’s the Thought that Counts): Separate the meaning of a gift from the value of the gift; meaning, “I am not loved if I receive something expensive, I am loved to receive a gift that others took time to think about and chose to give me.” This could be enforced through modeling and discussion.
  6. Set a “Gifting System”: This is crucial for most families. If budget is an issue, ask your family members whether they would like one “big ticket” item gift or several average gifts–a gift from everyone or draw a name to gift this season. Some struggling families ask their children to write a wish list according to priority. Each child gets the first gift. Then, some families will either wait for the after Christmas sale to purchase the rest at a more affordable price, or wait into the new year for a small portion of their tax return to be used on the rest of the gift. Here is the point. There is no right or wrong way to deal with this over commercialized holiday except what works for your family and what would allow the family to have a stress-free holiday, without long term negative ramification.
  7. Do a Family Exercise: Here is an exercise I use with some of the families I see: Sit around the table with your favorite warm beverage. Identify your favorite holiday memory or tradition. Brainstorm what would make an ideal holiday break. Be creative as you work together, as a team, on the details of this holiday.

After all, remember that the holiday does not have to be “doom and gloom” if you are well prepared. So let us make this holiday season one that brings us together in love and harmony. Try as a family to shave off all the extra that causes heartache and focus on all the things that bring you joy. Plan accordingly, commit to having fun, and celebrate those most special in your life. During this holiday season, turn around “what could turn into a perfect storm,” for many families, to a “holiday to remember.”



Professional, Personal, and Relationship Consultant, Life Coach, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

Germaine Mikhail, LMFT, M.Div.

Germaine is a passionate, a strong communicator, and a bilingual professional, who is driven to positively influence the lives of others and propel them to pursue their lifelong career and personal goals. She is a Professional, Personal, and Relationship Consultant, Life Coach, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. 

You can connect with Germaine via LinkedIn or Twitter!

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