First, turn on the TV. Second, wait for a commercial that depicts the holiday season. (You won't have to wait more than a nanosecond, so no worries there.) Third, observe how the people, homes and decorations in said commercials bear very little resemblance to yours. Four, scratch your head and sigh.
If your relationship is rocky, volatile or just good old-fashioned unhappy, the holidays can be really rough. If you're struggling to merry-make when your primary relationship isn't good, then watching another commercial in which happy spouses present each other with luxury vehicles wrapped in huge red bows is akin to being slapped in the face with mistletoe.
Listen, most folks don't live in the land of perfect snow-dustings (Hello, Buffalo!) and moist turkeys, so don't get hung up on what you see on TV or whatever holiday perfection your neighbor is presenting. Right now your goal is to get through the holidays without slumping over in despair and heartache. So, let's start there.
1. This is your holiday. You get to decide what you want it to look and feel like. Are there things from your childhood holidays that still make you smile? Great. Go and do them. Bake grandma's famous apple pie, hang those crazy-huge Christmas ornaments on the tree outside, eat your weight in peppermint bark. Do whatever makes your bells jingle. It will help you enjoy your holiday despite the state of your relationship.
2. This is your kids' holiday. It isn't fair having to watch you and your mate sulk around the house while grudgingly going through the motions. Your kids are excited for the holidays and they're only kids once. If conjuring up enthusiasm isn't something you can do for yourself, do it for them. People remember their childhood holidays -- don't you? -- so ask yourself what memories you're making for your kids. Then, go make some good ones.
3. This is your parents' holiday. How many more years will they be around? Are you watching as they slowly age before your eyes? Perhaps they already have health issues. More than anything, people want peace as they age -- and this includes seeing their children at peace. You're giving your parents a gift if they observe you -- if only for one or two days -- enjoying yourself and your family.
4. Don't make excuses for your partner. If he or she doesn't want to participate, don't let that hold you back. "Oh, you know he hates the holidays," or "This time of year is just too overwhelming for her" are among the things you need to stop saying. Let your spouse explain him/herself to the kids, the family and your friends. It's not your job to justify your spouse's crappy, bah humbug behavior.
5. You shouldn't have! Yes, you should. Go ahead and buy yourself something you want and put it under the tree. Heck, wrap it if it makes you feel good. Maybe you've learned not to expect much by way of gifts from your partner but that doesn't mean you don't want them or deserve them. You do, you do, you do. Happy holidays to you... from you.
6. Create new traditions. Without the foundation of spousal love and support, traditions can feel pretty darn empty. So, maybe it's time to try something different. Volunteer to drive those who can't to their places of worship. Get your kids involved in turkey drives for the hungry. Visit nursing homes and hospitals to spread some cheer to those who need it most. You'll feel great doing something in the true spirit of the season.
7. Get out of Dodge. If the thought of sullenly sitting around the house avoiding your spouse and praying for the holidays to be over is just too depressing, how about getting away instead? Doesn't mean you have to fly to some private island in the Caribbean (but wouldn't that be nice?), but a drive to your nearest city to take in the sights and decorations is one uplifting option. Even a plan to visit those friends in the next town may do the trick. Changing up the scenery can do wonders for your holiday mood.
8. Don't be a stranger. Holidays can sometimes feel pretty insular. Same people, different year. And the mood of your relationships isn't helping matters. If that's the case, consider bringing in some new blood. Host an open house. Invite friends to share in the holiday by combining both of your traditions. Ask folks who have nowhere else to go to join your family.
9. Happy New Year! Is it going to be? There's nothing like the start of a new year to assess your relationship and where it's going. Talk with your partner but decide first what it is you need and what's going to make you happy. Seems that it's only a matter of moments before the holidays will be rolling around again. How do you want them -- and your relationship -- to look and feel next year?