People suffering from anxiety are often proponents of Murphy’s Law-anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Around the holidays, when we are so busy with many more tasks than usual, there is more potential for something to go wrong. And for couples, one or both of whom may be anxious, that goes double.
A certain amount of anxiety may actually serve you well. If you anticipate what might go wrong, you can also think what you can do to avoid what might go wrong. In other words, planning helps. When you talk things over with your partner in advance, you can avoid, or at least reduce, some of the most anxious holiday moments. Here are a few topics you might want to discuss.
1) Budget. One of the biggest sources of anxiety during the holidays is money. Sit down with your significant other and have a frank discussion of how much you can afford. Write out a budget-it’s important to have it in black and white for clarity’s sake. Determine how much to allot to gifts, entertainment, or whatever holiday expenses you have. Then stick to it. When you know you’re adhering to agreed-upon expenditures, it automatically feels good.
2) Gifts. A big source of anxiety can be gift giving. Will he or she like it? Have you found the right thing? The key to good gift giving-and I think it’s an art-is listening for clues throughout the year. If you are tuned in to your partner you will get ideas for a thoughtful gift. But if you still have no clue, ask directly for ideas. It is easy to go overboard if you’re trying to impress, but remember your budget. You’ll know how much to spend if you’ve discussed it beforehand. It’s no fair surprising him with a really expensive watch if you’ve both agreed to take it easy on the cost of gifts for each other. He’ll only feel bad when all he gets for you is that paperback you’ve been wanting to read.
3) Relatives. This is always tricky to navigate during the holidays. Whose relatives will you visit? How long will you stay? Who will come to your house? Whose family traditions will you follow? If there are children and stepchildren, potential problems multiply exponentially. The only thing to do is to hammer out a plan with your significant other that’s as fair as you both can muster. Remember, when families get together, people tend to revert to old patterns long after they’ve outgrown them. If your big brother always was a bully, think in advance that this year, you won’t take the bait. Be ready to respond to him in a way that saves you unnecessary angst. You could even say with a smile, “Sorry, I’m no longer going to allow you to intimidate me,” and give him a big hug.
4) Chores. Whose responsibility is it to buy gifts? Put up decorations? Cook the holiday dinner? There is always so much to do during the holidays. Sometimes the allotment of chores becomes lopsided, and one person in a couple has far too much. If you’re that person, ask for help. If you’re the other person, try to make an objective assessment and offer to help. Or discuss what chores are important with your partner. Maybe you don’t need to make that complicated dessert that’s been a tradition for generations. Maybe it’s more important to spend time as a couple listening to music or whatever it is that you both like to do.
There’s no doubt, though, that even the best plans can go awry, and real anxiety sets in. That’s when it’s time to consult a professional. Anxiety disorders affect both partners. When one partner is impaired by anxiety, the other partner has to take on more duties, and can become resentful, angry and bitter. And then feel guilty for feeling that way. Or, one partner can just become overworked, overwhelmed and burned out. Couples counseling is often a good idea. It will help the person with the anxiety disorder and the partner who tries to pick up the slack.
Remember, there is a corollary to Murphy’s Law: Not everything can go wrong all the time. Sometimes things go right.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: http://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.