Holiday family burnout is real: How to spend time with loved ones without losing it

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Having a big family can be fun, but it can also make it tough to organize your holiday calendar. Factor in your partner’s family, too, and it can become nearly impossible to see everyone on your list.

For lots of couples, this negotiation about which gatherings to attend and which you’d rather skip can quickly turn into an argument. Some even opt to avoid family altogether until the chaos has subsided.

That’s why Dr. Ami Rokach, a clinical psychologist and professor at York University, says those couples who stick around for the holidays should operate as a unit, “mostly addressing their needs and wishes rather than those of others (like family).”

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Dr. Natasha Sharma, a relationship and emotional fitness expert, has similar advice.

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“Think of yourselves first (this isn’t selfish!) and what will make you feel happiest,” she said. “It should never be compromising to you … Make where and with whom you choose to spend your time over the holidays natural and honest.”

Here, both experts share tips for making holiday plans that will keep everyone in your family happy.

Plan ahead

“I often suggest that people start to address that issue way before the actual date,” Rokach told Global News.

Having an agreed-upon plan will allow the two of you to head into the holiday season as a united front, and it will avoid any conflict or resentment arising.

“It is important for the couple to reiterate that their first priority is to operate as a union, taking both points of view into account, understanding that complete fulfilment of each of their wishes cannot be fulfilled,” he said.

“If [you] don’t address it appropriately, [you’ll] end up being frustrated, angry and unfulfilled.”

Sharma says the wants of children, if you have them, should also be taken into consideration.

“I think couples should have an open, honest conversation with each other — and their children, if they have them,” said Sharma. “Decide as a family how and where [you] want to spend [your] precious holiday time.”
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Be honest about what you want from the holiday season, and go from there.

Do what’s best for you and your partner

The key, says Rokach, is not to allow yourself to feel pressured or shamed into going somewhere you don’t want to go.

“[You] need to be aware that, should [you] let others pressure [you], it will negatively affect [your] relationship,” he said. “Should [your partner] attend a gathering against their will, they won’t enjoy it and will end up resentful.”

To that end, narrow down a list of places both of you actually want to visit.

“The most important point is that they do so as a couple, after negotiating between themselves where they will go,” he said.

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No place is worth visiting if you’re “going to have a terrible time,” said Sharma.

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“Try not to hit every single house if it’s going to overwhelm you and ruin your holidays … Keep the holidays sane and you-centric, not other-centric,” she said.

“It’s not good for your emotional health to overtly compromise your own happiness just to please others.”

Be honest

For those parties and gatherings that you can’t attend, try not to lie about your plans.

Explain that you can’t attend because of prior commitments, but “find a way of communicating, as a couple, [your] appreciation for being invited,” said Rokach.
“If it is a couple’s united decision — when [your] first priority is the union, and not placating the families — [you can] do so without hurting or disregarding each other’s wishes.”

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For Sharma, this extends to being honest with your partner, too.

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“Don’t be demanding, or think that your needs trump your partner’s [or] family’s needs,” she said. “Be honest, but be compromising and understanding if one of you really wants to go someplace. It’s not going to kill you to be there.

“I think we just make the holidays more difficult than they need to be … Don’t overcommit. Remain positive and lighthearted. The holidays are supposed to be fun!”

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