With the holidays almost upon us, if you’re feeling uneasy in the pit of your stomach, or as though words are forming in your throat which you cannot quite bring yourself to utter, it could be that, like millions of other people around the world, you are experiencing the holiday dread of having to pretend.
Are you pretending you want to spend your downtime with people whose company has come to make you uneasy or stressed? Pretending you want to consume the amounts of food and alcohol they have prepared? Pretending you are comfortable (financially or morally) with spending on presents? Or pretending you like or need the gifts you are given?
No matter how much time we spend around the fire with our friends and family, and irrespective of the food or alcohol we’ve consumed or how many presents we’ve given or received, what each of us craves, especially at Christmas, is connection – being seen and heard and accepted by the people we feel we should be closest to. We often hope for that feeling of closeness so much that we’re scared we won’t achieve it. Consequently, we sometimes fill our time together with the ‘noise’ of food and gifts, so that there simply is no chance of intimacy.
In order to truly see and be seen around the table, here are some big open questions you can ask friends and family of all ages:
- What world events had the most impact on you growing up?
- Of all the things you learned from your parents, which do you feel was the most valuable?
- What was your most joyous moment of 2021?
- What would you change about yourself if you could?
- What is your biggest fear?
- What makes you angry?
- Do you hold any convictions that you would be willing to die for?
- What are your guilty pleasures?
- If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
- What is the one thing you most want people to remember about you?
This year, instead of Christmas cracker jokes, you could give everyone a big open question to ask the table.
Do You Prefer Your Love Gift-wrapped, or Basted In The Oven?
It could be that your holiday companions may be communicating love in ways you simply don’t recognize. Over the holidays especially, this can cause a huge amount of tension. If, for instance, you show love through gift-giving but your family members or friends show their affection by cooking and doing household chores, you may not understand that the baking and cleaning they’re doing actually means they love you. In turn, they may not appreciate all the tender thoughts you put into picking your gift for them.
According to the acclaimed social scientist Gary Chapman, there are five love languages, each with its own complex vocabulary. We all have a primary love language, and which one we speak has a lot to do with how we were or were not shown love by our parents when we were children. In adult life we either seek the love we were shown as children, or we seek the love we craved because it was absent.
Do you feel most loved when you hug, stroke or kiss? Is every tender caress worth a thousand words to you? If so, your love language is most certainly Physical.
Do you prefer your love written on a card, in a text, email, or spoken on a phone call? If words are your favorite way of being appreciated and communicating affection to others, then your primary love language is Verbal.
If you prefer your friends to show their love wordlessly, without touch or gifts and all you want is for them to switch off their phone and take you on a hike then Quality Time is most certainly your preferred language of love. You show your love simply by showing up.
If you would feel most loved if your partner picked you up from the station, cooked you a meal, ironed your shirt, emptied the dishwasher, vacuumed the house, and ran you a bubble bath, preferably all on the same day, then Acts of Service is your love language.
There are many “huggers” whose “gift-giving” partners see them as “always wanting sex;” There are “talkers” with “quality time” whose loving friends and family resent them for spoiling the moment. However, in my experience as a coach, by far the most frequent tension occurs between the “dishwashers” and the monolingual speakers of every single other love language.
It all boils down to whether one partner is doing more chores than the other. If this is the case, inevitably the chore-doing partner will feel either less loved or simply less valued – and it’s hard to argue which one is worse.
I highly recommend finding out the primary and secondary love languages of yourself and those you care most about. If you’re lucky enough to already be speaking each other’s love languages, that’s great. Just remember that the love languages of your parents, children, and friends may not be the same as yours.
Once you’ve taken the brave step of admitting to what it is you’ve been pretending, the next step is to be clear about what you would feel comfortable with. You are responsible for setting the boundaries around how you are willing to spend your time, what food and alcohol you would like to consume, and what level of gift-giving and receiving you feel comfortable with. Often the hardest boundaries to set are around time: How many days (or hours) are you comfortable spending in your friend or family member’s home? If you’re hosting, how many hours or days are you happy to have folk stay? If you need time alone to rest and read, and often find yourself exhausted by catering to other people’s needs 24/7, let your friends and family know that you will be retreating to your bedroom for 3 hours every afternoon. Or, if you are committed to taking a couple of long walks over the holiday, while everyone else is watching movies, be sure to communicate this.
Christmas is understood to be all about the joy of giving to others, and many of us worry about being an ungrateful guest or an ungracious receiver of gifts. As a host or gift-giver, rather than projecting your expectations onto our guests, it is your responsibility to check in with friends and family to find out what kind of a holiday they would welcome. As a guest or receiver, it is your responsibility to be clear about what you feel able or willing to receive.