Achieve hol­i­day har­mony with or with­out fam­ily

Lo­cal res­i­dents share tips for a stress­less sea­son, from skip­ping gifts to get­ting away

Thornhill Post - - Currents -

The hol­i­days are sup­posed to be filled with cheer, but for many, De­cem­ber brings ad­di­tional stress re­lated to money, time, fam­ily and in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships.

To re­duce stress dur­ing the fes­tive sea­son and help you achieve greater re­la­tion­ship har­mony, I’ve gath­ered in­sights from fel­low Toron­to­ni­ans who say they’ve found so­lu­tions to hol­i­day hic­cups.

Con­flict­ing feel­ings about the hol­i­days are com­mon. Cul­tural mes­sages sug­gest that we should take com­fort in spend­ing time with our fam­i­lies, but not ev­ery­one shares this ex­pe­ri­ence.

“My dad cut me off when I came out of the closet in my late teens, so my fam­ily is a cho­sen one,” ex­plains Mau­rice, who lives down­town.

“It’s com­mon for us queers to have a cho­sen fam­ily. I don’t know why straight folks are so hung up on blood re­la­tion­ships.”

It’s true, and we can all learn from this les­son.

If we planned qual­ity time around how we feel in one an­other’s com­pany in­stead of do­ing so around DNA, we’d likely see a re­duc­tion in hol­i­day stress lev­els — and hap­pier re­la­tion­ships.

Other Toron­to­ni­ans take a more ca­sual ap­proach. Candice, who grew up in the Beaches and now lives in High Park, says her at­ti­tude changed at an early age.

“My dad didn’t just leave when I was eight years old. He left on Christ­mas Day, so I’ve never been into the hol­i­days. It was rough, so my mom would pack us up and take us away ev­ery year. We trav­elled to some pretty cool places, and it was a good dis­trac­tion.”

Now as an adult, Candice cel­e­brates with friends on Christ­mas Eve and has brunch with her boyfriend’s fam­ily on Christ­mas Day.

Fi­nances also loom large when it comes to hol­i­day stress.

Up­town res­i­dents Cara and Chris used to fight about money, and they rec­om­mend a so­lu­tion they re­fer to as a dras­tic mea­sure.

“We’d overdo it with gifts and end up pay­ing off our credit cards into the spring. He was so com­pet­i­tive with his ex [over spend­ing on their kids], which is ironic since it ended up hurt­ing our re­la­tion­ship,” says Cara.

“Three years ago Chris and I stopped do­ing gifts — not even for the kids. We plan one vol­un­teer event as a fam­ily, one meal out and we spon­sor a fam­ily to select gifts for kids who ac­tu­ally need them.”

It may sound ex­treme to cut off all gift giv­ing, but you don’t want to al­low fi­nan­cial is­sues to set the tone for the new year, as con­flict over money is a pri­mary cause of re­la­tion­ship dis­tress and divorce.

Riverdale’s Grace and Jim have had 10 years of un­happy hol­i­days, and they’re ex­per­i­ment­ing with a new ap­proach this year.

“My hus­band al­ways ends up fight­ing with his fam­ily. We fight, too, be­cause we’re ex­hausted, and I’ve be­come re­sent­ful of my sib­lings — they ask for gifts but never give, and they never help with host­ing and cook­ing,” Grace ex­plains. “I can barely get them to RSVP to a din­ner to which they’re sure to show up empty-handed.”

Grace said she and Jim go up north on Box­ing Day to get away, but they end up feel­ing so worn out that they spend the time fight­ing in­stead of con­nect­ing.

“So this year, we’re host­ing ev­ery­one — my fam­ily and his — 10 days be­fore Christ­mas so that by the time we get away on the 26th we will have hope­fully had time to re­cover and can ac­tu­ally en­joy each other,” she says.

Trav­el­ling over the hol­i­days or opt­ing out of big fam­ily cel­e­bra­tions doesn’t mean you’re run­ning away from your prob­lems. You have to look out for your own men­tal and emo­tional health first.

If the hol­i­days are re­ally about spend­ing time with loved ones, the date of a cel­e­bra­tion may not mat­ter, so it’s worth con­sid­er­ing how you might re­jig your sched­ule to make it man­age­able.

“We’d pre­fer less ten­sion with our fam­i­lies,” Grace says. “But if we can’t have it, at least we can iso­late the stress to one day and hope­fully fight less with each other. I want to love Christ­mas again!”

You should also con­sider your role in re­la­tion­ship ten­sion. Very few un­healthy re­la­tion­ships are one-sided, so if you want hap­pier re­la­tion­ships, you need to first look at your be­hav­iour. If you find that many of your re­la­tion­ships are dis­tress­ful, con­sider the fact that you are the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor.

This doesn’t mean you’re at fault, but since you can’t change other peo­ple’s be­hav­iour, shift your fo­cus to what you can do dif­fer­ently.

I chal­lenge you to com­mit to one be­havioural change. If you ac­cept a small amount of re­spon­si­bil­ity for your re­la­tion­ships and change one be­hav­iour for the bet­ter, it’s likely that your loved ones will fol­low suit.

So if you’re al­ways play­ing the mar­tyr, start ac­cept­ing help. If your part­ner doesn’t share your fam­ily val­ues, ac­cept it. If you tend to com­plain about oth­ers be­hind their backs, stop it.

Com­mit­ting to your own be­havioural changes will re­sult in har­mo­nious re­la­tion­ships over the hol­i­days and all year long.

DR. JESS Jess O’Reilly is a sought-af­ter speaker, au­thor and sex­ol­o­gist (

Look out for your own men­tal and emo­tional health over the hol­i­days

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