Archive for the ‘holiday’ Category

Holidays for Newly Married Couples: Do’s and Don’ts

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Well, the wedding is over. You and your spouse have returned from your honeymoon in the Caribbean or Branson, Missouri or where ever you spent your first days of wedded bliss. Walking through the store on your weekly grocery trip you begin to see all of the displays of holiday decorations. You think, “Oh how exciting! Won’t our first Christmas together be so special?!” And then out of the blue a thought hits you like a cold chill. “We haven’t decided where we are going to spend the Holidays!” Maybe the realization comes when Mom calls and tells you she’s so excited to have you visit during Christmas. Maybe it’s when your spouse tells you his plans to take off early so you can drive to his parents’ house three states over. Whenever it hits you, you realize “This is not going to be an easy decision…”

One of the first dilemmas that a newly married couple encounters is the decision about where to spend the holidays. His family or Her family? Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries are typically times for family tradition and good memories. However, Thanksgiving and Christmas (or Hanukah or Kwanza) tend to have more of an emotional connection for each spouse as well as both sets of in-laws, therefore making this decision much more difficult.

Because of this emotional connection, the dilemma can be a source of conflict for a newlywed couple. However, with a little proactive planning, a couple can avoid conflict, maintain positive relationships with both families and continue to build new happy holiday memories. By the way, if you or someone you know is currently engaged, this would be an excellent topic of discussion during pre-marital preparation sessions.

Please begin this discussion with a few key understandings and assumptions. First, this is usually not an easy decision. You will need to take deliberate measures to avoid conflict regarding this issue. Second, remember that your spouse likely considers his/her family traditions as just as special as you do your own family’s traditions. Third, you and your spouse need to plan as a team. You will be tempted to side with your parents/family during this time, but avoid that temptation at all costs. And fourth, there’s always next year and many after that. Plans made this year can, and likely will, be altered for future holidays.

Let’s look at some “Do’s and Do not’s” to keep in mind when discussing this topic as a couple.

DO NOT Criticize your spouse’s parents or other family members.

DO NOT Criticize your spouse’s family traditions.

DO NOT Make plans or promises with your family before talking with your spouse.

DO NOT Blame your spouse if you decide together that you will not spend the holiday with your family.

DO NOT Tell your family that your spouse refuses to spend the holiday with them or insists on spending the holiday with his/her family instead.

DO Make plans for the holidays as far in advance as possible.

DO Speak to your spouse respectfully.

DO Use “I” statements as you share your ideas and tell your spouse about the special traditions that your family has.

DO Listen to your spouse with openness. Your number one goal during this discussion should be to understand your spouse’s point of view rather than winning and getting your way.

DO Tell your family your plans for the holidays assertively as a team. Assure them that you understand if they are disappointed. Let them know of any plans to alternate homes in the future so that they have something to look forward to.

Again, this decision may not be an easy one. (Did I mention that already?) Some factors to consider are:

How far do your families live from you?

How far do your families live from each other?

Do your families consider one holiday more special than the other? (for example, Is Thanksgiving celebrated more than Christmas? Does one family celebrate on Christmas Eve and the other Christmas Day? Etc.)

Are there extenuating circumstances, such as the death of one parent, or the return of a family member from military service that may influence your decision?

Above all, BE FLEXIBLE. One exercise that is incredibly helpful is brainstorming. Sit down with your spouse and write down as many options for dealing with the holiday dilemma as possible. Here are a few important rules for effective brainstorming:

  1. Make it fun. Write down even the wildest ideas. You never know, those wild ideas may be something to build from later.
  2. Suspend Judgment. Do not criticize any idea, no matter how unlikely. Remember, have fun and be flexible.
  3. The brainstorming session should be a short discussion. Just write each idea down and move to the next idea.  You’ll come back to review the list later.
  4. Once your list of ideas is complete, discuss and expand on the best ideas.

Here are a few ideas just to get you started on your brainstorming activity.

  1. Alternate holidays. Visit one family for Thanksgiving and the other for Christmas this year. Then switch for next year.
  2. Spend Christmas Eve with one family and Christmas Day with the other.
  3. Have both families over to your house for Thanksgiving and alternate Christmas
  4. Begin your own tradition and go to the Bahamas for Christmas.

After the brainstorming session, decide together which approach will work best for you and your spouse. Then, share your decision with your families as soon as possible. Be assertive when informing them of your decision.  Take the time to express understanding if your family has disappointment about your plans.  If you follow these tips, you will be able to avoid conflict in this area this year as well as years to come.

Chris Giles, M.S.

Holiday Family Challenges

Monday, November 12th, 2012

The holidays are stressful in many ways.  The increase in activities, shopping, travel, and extra costs are only the beginning of the list of stressors.   Holidays are also filled with increased family stressors, such as:

–       Increased family expectations to spend time together

–       Pressure to conform to family traditions

–       Seeing family members who may be kept at arms-length during the rest of the year

–       Reminders of family members who have died

–       Exposure to increased alcohol consumption among some family members

–       Children spending time out of school and at home

–       Reminders of family hurts and disappointments

–       Increased dealings with extended family and in-laws

Even the healthiest of families contain personalities and family members whose personal values clash, or where some family members’ behavior is difficult to be near. These pressures contribute to breakdowns in communication and increased conflict.

We strive to establish comfortable levels of distance and boundaries during the year.  This often collapses around the holidays when we change our routines and increase contact with our extended family.  Intrusions and offenses increase.  Occasionally, these gatherings result in conflict that includes unpleasant escalations and hurtful words.

Though it is probably impossible for most of us to eliminate family stresses and conflicts altogether, there are some ways to reduce stress.  Consider some of the following options:

–       Parents, prior to making holiday plans, can reconsider and re-negotiate what is best for their family, rather than simply doing the same things that have been expected in the past.

  • When visiting conflict-prone family members, make visits shorter
  • When traveling out of town, consider motels rather than cramming large numbers of people into small spaces.  This also allows for some private times to de-stress.
  • Some family confrontations are predictable.  It’s okay to intentionally plan to avoid unproductive and vulnerable situations.
  • When stressors and conflicts are building during a visit, go for a walk or a drive with safe people to decompress.

–        When unresolved conflicts with family members can be identified in advance, be pro-active.  Consider your best conflict-resolution skills and plan to use them in advance of holiday get-togethers.  When you have made your best effort to seek peace with problem family members and it hasn’t worked, consider consulting an expert on family conflict.  They may be able to suggest tools you may not have considered, or they may be able to mediate civil conversations (at CFI we frequently mediate conflicts over the holidays and any time during the year.)

–       If you have lost a significant family member recently, make time to celebrate and honor that person.  Do it in a way that is most meaningful to you.

–       Make the reason for the season central to your family get-togethers.  Christmas is about Christ and His great gift of His life to us through his birth on earth.  Even when surrounded by others who may not share your faith, renew your own celebration of Christ with those who do share your faith.  Pick out verses from scripture that speak to your situation and that assist you to have a fresh perspective and renewed mind, such as:

  • Regarding Christmas:
    • The Christmas Story from Matthew 1
  • The importance of married people setting limits with family:
    • Genesis 2:24 (NIV)  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
  • Dealing With Anger and Conflict:
    • Proverbs 15:1  (NLTSE)  A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.
    • Proverbs 18:13 (MSG)  Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.
    • Romans 12:18 (NIV)  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
    • Proverbs 22:24 (NIV)  Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered,
  • The Goal To Love:
    • Ephesians 4:15 (NLTSE) Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
    • I Tim. 1:5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
    • I Cor. 13:4-8 (NIV) [4] Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. [5] It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. [6] Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. [7] It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.[8] Love never fails.
  • We, like Jesus, need time to reflect, refresh, and pray:
    • Mark 1:35 (NIV)  Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
  • Finding Peace in Even the Most Stressful  Circumstances:
    • Phil. 4:4-8 [4] Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! [5] Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. [6] Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. [7] And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[8] Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. [9] Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Merry Christ-mas!

Dale R. Doty, Ph.D.

Holiday Stress- CFI Video Podcast posted on YouTube

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Dr. Tim Doty, Psy.D. of Christian Family Institute in Tulsa, Oklahoma shares some quick tips about how to stay healthy during the holiday season. He discusses continuing to place an importance on healthy exercise, eating and sleep as well as taking joy in the season.

Feel free to share this link with your friends and family.  Here is the  YouTube link.  Or if you prefer, Vimeo link.

ADHD help for the Holidays, or anytime!

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

We all know parenting kids during school breaks can be challenging.  It can be even more difficult if you have a child who deals with distractibility and hyperactivity.  Here are a few ideas to help keep you sane over the holiday season.

Continue to set appropriate limits with the kids.  Sometimes it is easy to let things slide during holidays and breaks, but kids must have consistency to feel safe in their environment.  Inconsistency often breeds chaos.  Kids will behave much better when they understand the expectations and the rules.  Our expectations for our kids should not change.  We can’t have one set of expectations that we enforce through the school routine months and then throw them out the window when holidays arrive.  Expectations like obedience (doing what you are asked to do, when you are asked to do it, without complaining), respect for self and others (don’t hurt yourself, others or property), and responsibility (take care of your things and always tell me where you are going) must continue.  We can change the bedtime rule to an hour later or give extra treats, but let the kids know these rule changes, additions and rewards are privileges earned for following the basic expectations.  When your kids misbehave or push the limits, be kind, but do enforce the limit.  You are the boss.  Set kind, firm limits with your kids and you will be surprised at their compliance.  Above all, they want to know you love them.  Setting limits is one way you show your child you care about them too much to let them misbehave.

If you have a distractible child, give short commands and reminders.  Example, “Go upstairs, get dressed, put on your shoes, and come downstairs.”  Then repeat, “Up, dressed, shoes, down,” or, “teeth, hair, shoes, down”.  If you repeat the basics of the command, and they repeat it back to you, they are much more likely to remember.  Give three to four commands at most.  You will also get a better response if they maintain eye contact with you when they repeat the command.

Post reminders around the house.  Type daily reminders and post them around the house.  For example, on the bathroom mirror, “STOP:  Things to do before you leave the bathroom”.  List brush teeth (with toothpaste and water), brush hair (with hairbrush), put your stuff away.  Mount a small wipe off board next to the door you use to leave the house, write reminders on the board.  Example, “STOP:  Backpack, homework, lunch”.  In the winter that list might be, “STOP:  Jacket, gloves, shoes, hat.”  Kids need reminders and sometimes so do we.

Have fun with your kids this Thanksgiving and Christmas season.  Spend time with them.  Build forts in the living room.  Read to them.  Listen to books on tape together. Play games inside or out.  Take lots and lots of pictures.  Show them they are a priority to you and you love them.  Have a great holiday season!

Jamie Brandon, M.S.

Holiday Family Conflicts and Disappointments

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Image borrowed from

Christmas and the surrounding holidays provide an opportunity for celebrations and get-togethers with family members.   For some, the Christmas season is truly a celebration.  For others, the holidays are a time of disappointment, hurt, and conflict related to family problems and conflicts that are managed at a distance the rest of the year.  Some people deliberately avoid family members with whom they have issues during the year until Christmas time when traditions include getting together with family.  Just because we may be Christians does not make us exempt from family problems.

For those who have abusive family members, or family members who abuse drugs and alcohol, or have psychiatric problems, the thought of getting together can be painful.  Many feel obligated to get together rather than make a scene or make a statement by their conspicuous absence.

Common issues that emerge at this time of year may include:

  • Family members who drink too much, or may be under the influence of drugs which modify moods, and sometimes make those using them combative, or socially inappropriate in other ways
  • Some family members have psychiatric problems which interfere with their ability to behave properly in relationships and in social settings
  • Family members who have long standing conflicts and where deep wounds still exist from the past
  • Parts of the family which have been fractured by marital problems or divorce
  • Some parts of the family who live very different and incompatible lifestyles, or who may hold to extremely different beliefs and values that are offensive

Any of these situations can lead to tension, anxiety, and a sense of dread in getting together for the holidays.  These conflicts also lead to feelings of depression, sadness, guilt, resentments, anger, and a tendency to relive the old hurts.

To handle the anticipated unpleasant get-togethers with some of these troublesome people, consider several strategies:

  • It is often best to meet at someone else’s house so you can leave when you want to.  It is more difficult to get someone to leave your house when you no longer feel comfortable.
  • Choose not to be alone with the ones you have the most trouble with.  Stay with those in the group you feel most safe around.  Possibly discuss with the ones who have the most understanding of the problem your need to have a “buddy,” or someone to run interference for you.
  • Keep visits with the troublesome people short.  If conflict emerges, excuse yourself and go lock yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes.  If conflict subsides, stay a little longer.  If the level of conflict or emotional distress rises to an uncomfortable level, express that you don’t feel well (which will likely be true) and excuse yourself and leave the gathering.
  • Drive yourself to the event or get-together, or have someone drive you that will agree to leave the event when you are ready to leave.

In these ways, you can participate in a limited way without having to either make yourself too uncomfortable or eliminate yourself completely from the family gathering.  Also, family therapy for extended or family-of-origin issues can empower you and help you know your options for keeping your peace during the holidays.

Dale Doty, Ph.D.

Dale R. Doty, M.S.W., Ph.D., LCSW, LMFT

Avoiding Holiday Blues

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Bowden McElroy

Strategies to Minimize Holiday Blues
1. Create new traditions
2. Focus on what God expects of you
3. Boycott the mall!
4. Set aside time to grieve
5. Be proactive in preventing loneliness
6. “Cut the apron strings” and place  family priorities above  families-of-origin.

Originally posted on Bowden McElroy’s Counseling Notes Blog, Nov. 21, 2007.

Bowden McElroy. M.Ed., LPC

Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress

Monday, December 14th, 2009



With our overcommitted schedules, it is often difficult to avoid stressing
out over the holidays.  Here are a few ideas to help keep you sane during
this stressful time.

  • Take care of yourself.  Remember to eat well, sleep well, and exercise.  You will have much more energy to make things special for your family.  Have healthy snacks on hand to curb the holiday munching on cookies and candies.
  • Set limits and a budget.  Make a list of all of the people you have to buy for and how much you plan to spend on each person.  Keep a running list of the gifts you have purchased. This will keep you from overspending.
  • Be realistic.  Sit down with a calendar and set realistic goals.  How much time do you have each week to devote to shopping and cooking?  Block out time on your schedule to prioritize the most important things.
  • Do not expect perfection.  Unrealistic expectations are a major cause of stress.
  • Delegate.  Ask for help with shopping and food preparation.  Ask everyone to bring along a dish to family get-togethers.  This spreads the expense and the time.
  • Prioritize.  Remember that you don’t have to attend every open house and holiday party.  Practice saying, “No thank you.  We already have plans for that date, but, thank you for the invitation.”
  • Don’t forget to breathe.  Take three deep cleansing breaths each morning and each evening.  This will help keep the oxygen flowing and you will recall this skill during times of high stress.

Jamie Brandon, M.S., LMFT

Grief in Bleak Midwinter

Monday, December 14th, 2009

If you have lost a loved one in the last year, then you will likely find this holiday season to be painful. Instead of celebrating, you may find yourself feeling very sad, angry and wanting to isolate. People often find the first holiday after a significant loss to be the most difficult. You may be asking yourself “How am I going to get through this Christmas?” Here are a few suggestions for working your way through:

1) Set realistic expectations for yourself. The most realistic expectation may be that you just get through this season. Hosting parties and spending time and energy on special gifts may be too much to accomplish this year. Make sure you talk with your family about any changes you need to make.

2) Make sure you take care of yourself. Grief takes a lot of energy. You may not be able to do all (or any) the holiday activities. One of the best self care acts: get enough rest.

3) Keep on grieving. Be careful about allowing yourself to be distracted from grieving by the activities of this season.

4) Keep talking. This holiday season is not the time to neglect your thoughts and feelings. In fact, now more than ever you may struggle with deep sorrow, crushing anger and devastating loneliness. These are experiences to talk about to trusted friends and family. If you have a therapist, make sure you make an appointment before Christmas, even if you do not think you need it.

5) Do something to honor your loved one. Light a candle during Christmas Eve dinner or attend a Longest Night Service ( find information on the events page in the November newsletter). Find something meaningful to mark your loved one’s place in the family.

Grief can be a difficult and complicated process and a holiday season will often add to the struggle. If you feel you need extra help and support during this time, please call The Christian Family Institute at 745-0095. Any of our therapists can help you through your grief.

Jill Butler, MS, LMFTWebsite photo of Jill2