Your spouse just told you that your in-laws are coming to your house this year.
But what is different this year than before is that your cousins have decided to caravan down with them and come to your home for the holidays too.
Furthermore, since you have a large backyard, they have decided not to kennel their two dogs, one gerbil, and three cats. No need – your house has enough room for them all!
As your spouse relates all of this to you, you feel your blood pressure starting to rise.
You try to explain, but your spouse just doesn’t seem to get it. And it is little wonder that he doesn’t – you can still remember last year, when you envied him his stressful, hectic city job that allowed him to escape the bedlam and chaos that was your home this time last year.
He didn’t see how demanding his folks really are of you. He didn’t realize how worn out and exhausted you felt at the end of every day – how spent, and drained, and just ready for the whole thing to be over.
Luckily, you have been taking a group therapy course in Dialectical Behavior Training (DBT) over the past several weeks, and what you are learning is giving you a fresh perspective on how to handle the family situation this year.
First things first – practicing mindfulness, you note your reactions to your spouse’s announcement. The rage. The frustration. The resentment. The air of finality to it – you are being told, not asked, if it is okay to host his extended family this year. You bring your newfound ability for “radical acceptance” to bear on the situation – calmly, you practice simply accepting the moment for what it is, rather than what your mind thinks or wishes it to be. First, accept. Next, work to change.
That accomplished, you pull out mindfulness’ trusty sidekick, emotion regulation. Using your new skills in emotion regulation, you begin to name each emotion objectively, like a witness or observer, rather than an active (and highly emotional) participant. Yup, that really is rage. Yes, there is frustration too. And resentment. Definitely resentment. Some sadness too – when will you and your spouse ever get a chance to enjoy the holidays just relaxing together? Okay, and relief is also coming up – because this year, you have a plan to use your new DBT skills to transform events in a way that includes your need for self-care and alone-time, as well as couple time and family time, into the mix.
Next up is distress tolerance. You realize you are feeling a lot of distress due to all the emotions suddenly arising and colliding within you. You take a deep breath, relax into an awareness of a bigger picture behind your momentary stress, and then let your breath out again, dropping your shoulders and softening your facial muscles as you do so. You remind yourself that you can deal with this situation, you do have it in you to find a workable solution, and you are okay, even in the midst of some significant emotional distress.
Finally, you begin to pull it all together into interpersonal effectiveness. Now is the moment when you will assert your needs – and household ground rules – with your spouse, sharing with him how you are feeling, what you need, and what you can and cannot offer to make the holidays with his family a success this year. You decide that you will initiate a calm, objective conversation with your spouse, free from excess emotion or last year’s holiday baggage, blame, or shame.
Still very calmly, you ask your spouse if he could join you at the kitchen table for a few moments to strategize. You share with him that you did not enjoy the holidays last year and have a plan for how this year’s time with loved ones can be different. You outline what you are willing and able to do to support his in-laws’ visit, and what you need from him in terms of his participation in the family holiday preparations. Then you ask him how he feels about participating in the ways you have outlined, and whether it is something he can commit to. You ask for his feedback as well, and together, you begin to open up to one another and admit that having the whole family in to stay is stressful for you both.
In other words, as you open up, mindfully, with calmness, centeredness, focus, and objectivity, sharing what you need as well as what you wish to offer to make the family holiday season a success, you give your spouse permission to do the same.
Together, using DBT as your guide, you begin to talk through creative ways to turn last year’s holiday woe into this year’s holiday wonder.
If you are finding that you are struggling this holiday season to find the wonder in the midst of the woes, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate and skilled staff has more than two decades of experience with guiding individuals in how to effectively use the DBT principles of mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Learn more by visiting us at www.southlakecounseling.com.
Be Well – and happy holidays!