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How do you feel about holiday traditions like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, summer or winter vacations? How about getting together with friends or family for Sunday night dinners, planning date nights, or celebrating birthdays?
Often times we take for granted that the person we love will want to experience these events like we have experienced them–or like we want to experience them.
Think about these events growing up. Were they times of celebration filled with meaning and joy, or were they events to get through or do everything you could to avoid?
I was talking with a colleague the other day who told me Christmas has always been a stressful time in her family. Her husband grew up in a poor family and both presents and celebrating were scarce. Although her family was also poor, her parents made a big deal out of Christmas. Her parents put love and care into making presents for the kids and made sure the day was filled with special activities like skating and eating a good meal. While she wanted to recreate these memories with her husband, he preferred to avoid the holidays by traveling somewhere hot. All her efforts at effective communication haven’t changed things. Unfortunately, this difference in Christmas wishes has been affecting both their marriage and friendship.
Every year a friend of mine used to make a big deal out of her husband’s birthday. She took the time to write him a beautiful birthday card outlining things she loved and appreciated about him. She really thought about something to buy him he would really like. She invited people over for dinner, made a wonderful meal with his favourite foods, and baked a homemade cake.
And every year she was incredibly disappointed in what he did for her. Often he wouldn’t give her a card. When she told him it was her birthday, he would tell her he didn’t know what to buy her, or she didn’t need anything and he wasn’t going to spend money needlessly. Sometimes he even forgot to say happy birthday. She wondered whether improving communication would help and wondered if it would make a difference in their sense of emotional connection.
Asking your partner in advance about these events, his or her wishes and desires, his/her hopes and expectations, and really trying to first and foremost understand his/her perspective before sharing yours can make a big difference in how you enjoy these events. Although it sounds simple enough, lots of times holidays and traditions can be taken for granted instead of really understanding and negotiating what may mean a lot–or very little–to both of you.
Suppose you talked about holiday traditions with your partner, what difference do you think it might make? Suppose you focused on them as rituals of connection, as opportunities for emotional connection, what difference do you think it might make?
As an experiment, try sitting down with your partner and asking what Christmas or some other holiday means to them. Get as much detail as you can to really understand their thoughts and feelings before you share what it means to you. Notice what difference it makes in how the holiday actually goes.
I’d appreciate your comments!