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Couples Counseling: Holiday Family Boundaries

Couples Counseling: Setting Boundaries with Family During the Holiday Season 

Surprisingly, the holidays are a busy time in the world of couples counseling. But, if you are dealing with the stress of juggling holiday plans with your extended family, you can probably guess why! (Related Article: Relationship and Communication Problems). The joy of the holiday season can quickly fade if you are trying to cope with family stress. This time of the year is full of family get-togethers. It can seem like your family stresses are coming to a head. (Related article: Holiday Stress). couples counseling

Luckily, your holiday season can be joyful, despite family struggles! Today, you will learn about how to set healthy boundaries with your loved ones this holiday season. 

Boundaries 101

First, let’s talk about boundaries. Boundaries are personal rules and limits you set to preserve your emotional bandwidth. Boundaries are a way to “lead with integrity and stay true to yourself”. (Source). 

The holidays are a time for giving and generosity. Unfortunately, you may have learned that you need to sacrifice your time (and sanity!) to make others happy. But, you will likely find that without boundaries you become burnt out. (Related article: The Truth About Boundaries). 

Quality, Not Quantity

You do not have to spend every holiday with your extended family. But it can definitely feel that way! This time of year is busy. You will find that you receive many invitations to participate in different activities. Some of these things will be fun and fulfilling. But, some are overwhelming. 

That’s where good boundaries come in! First, focus on quality, not quantity when it comes to your holiday celebrations. Then, sit down with your partner and list the high-priority activities you would like to include in your holiday calendar. From there, discuss activities that might not be as fulfilling for you and your partner. These will be better to leave off of your holiday plans. 

Being prepared for the holiday chaos will help you be ready to set boundaries and avoid burnout. The activities you choose to keep on your calendar can be focused on good communication. And good communication will set the stage for positive holiday fun with your family. 

Pick Your Battles… and Stick With Them. couples counseling

Some family gatherings can create conflict and stress. Sadly, you cannot change the actions of others. But being prepared can help you have a more peaceful holiday season with your family. (Related article: Relationship Problems- In-Laws). 

First, sit down before the family party with your spouse to plan ahead. Write down any potential topics that could cause a problem with your family.

Some topics might be more general. For example, maybe you are currently unemployed. So, you prefer not to discuss your job search. Some topics might be very specific. For example, you might feel uncomfortable discussing a disagreement you had with a particular family member in front of everyone. Discussing these topics with your spouse before the family gathering can help you be prepared. 

How to Set Boundaries 

Next, take the time to create some scripts with your spouse that help to set these boundaries. Good family boundaries help to preserve your mental health and emotional bandwidth when it comes to challenging topics. Here are some examples:

  • “I am happy to help bring something to Christmas dinner on Saturday, but I cannot make something homemade right now. Is there something I can pick up at the store for you instead?” 
  • “I appreciate that you want to open up to me about your frustrations with that family member, but I don’t feel comfortable being in the middle. I am happy to discuss other things with you.” 
  • “I appreciate your invitations to your holiday parties. I will be able to come to this week’s dinner, but I won’t be able to make it to the dinner on Christmas Eve.”

These are just examples of boundaries you might use with family this holiday season. With good boundaries, you can enjoy the holiday celebrations without sacrificing yourself. couples counseling

Creating Happy Holidays

Finally, your interactions with family don’t have to take the joy out of this holiday season. You and your spouse can work together to create health family boundaries and enjoy your holiday celebrations. (Related article: Promoting Partnership). 

If you and your spouse are looking for help navigating family stress this holiday season, another useful resource is couples counseling. A couples counselor can help you and your partner work through issues with other people outside of your marriage, not just with each other. (Related article: Outside vs. Inside Marriage Problems).

Ready for a change in your family this holiday season? Our therapists are here to help. Schedule an appointment with one of our therapists today in Orem, South Jordan, or Spanish Fork.

Written by Lauren Adkins

Lauren Adkins

Writer for the Center for Couples and Families

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