Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn’t listening. ~Emma Thompson

Do you and your partner fight before a family event? Is there one family member who just sets you off?

Family gatherings are stressful; juggling hopes for a good time alongside expectations of mother-in-laws and well-intentioned siblings. Staying grounded and connected to your partner is vital to actually enjoying the holidays and entering the new year feeling refreshed from time off.

Here are five tips to getting along with both sides of your families and maximizing fun this holiday season with your partner:

  1. Examine: Look at YOUR expectations and hopes. Are they realistic? What good things are actually possible? Lisa struggles with her family’s over-reliance on Happy Hour for family fun. Her hope is to meaningfully connect with her family. A reachable goal for Lisa would be to find ways earlier in the day to connect with individual members.
  2. Share: Communicate your “fear-fantasy” with your partner well before the gathering. Be vulnerable. Lisa fears that her family will erupt in a fight and will insult her partner. She prepares herself and her partner, Sam, by sharing her concerns openly.
  3. Breathe: When things get hectic—insults start flying or feelings are wounded–a few deep breaths will calm your hamster brain and give you a moment to think before reacting.
  4. Plan: Have a disaster course of action; even a simple one helps. Lisa and Sam decide that if they see a fight brewing, they will go for a walk in the neighborhood. Exercise and a nice check-in—a solid plan to stay connected!
  5. Debrief: Talk about residual feelings with a trusted person. Lisa knows that to stay engaged with her family, and not take things out on Sam, she must do something with her big feelings. She relies on her friends, and when they are not available, Lisa writes what she would say to her friends in her private journal.

The bottom line—be present with and accept your experience, and give yourself comfort with positive self-talk. No one triggers us like the people we love or want to love us. Give yourself the space to reflect and process; it will make authentic re-engaging much easier. And it will support your partnership and bring you even closer.

If you need help preparing for the holidays with your partner, our couples counselors in BerkeleySan Francisco, Walnut Creek, and Palo Alto can offer you the tools and support you need. We also offer sliding scale options for people with need.

Danielle Saunders, MFT Danielle brings over 14 years of experience to couples counseling. Her unique approach incorporates communication skills and relational-somatic and mindfulness-based techniques. Danielle sees couples with a large range of issues, including reclaiming sexual passion, coparenting/blended families, and recovery from trauma/history of abuse. She is both practical and creative in finding solutions to remaining present with and growing into healthy love relationships. She believes love is our best teacher and our relationships can be a place for working through key issues through building safety, depth and authenticity.