Navigating Holidays: Imago Style

Ah, the holidays – a wonderful time filled with traditions, warm gatherings, and the joy of reconnecting with family and friends. And while the thought of spending holidays with our own families can trigger mixed feelings of stress and excitement, the anticipation of spending holidays with our partner’s family can stir up a whole range of other emotions. In the midst of the winter holiday whirlwind, staying connected to your partner becomes not just important but the actual key to turning the festive frenzy into an opportunity for growth.

When our partner’s family dynamics take center stage

Imagine this: You and your partner are eagerly diving into the holiday spirit, ready for festivities and quality time. However, the moment you step into your partner’s family gathering, a seemingly innocent comment from their mother or a familiar dynamic between siblings triggers a wave of tension, old emotions, and maybe even reactivity for your partner. Suddenly, the joy of the season is overshadowed by the challenge of navigating your partner’s family dynamics.

Who is this child showing up in our space?

Exploring your partner’s story (and your own!) is essential to understanding the adaptive mechanisms, internalized messages, and wounds they experienced in childhood. When you can see your partner as someone who is actively seeking connection with parents, siblings, and you in the best way they know how, it becomes easier to empathize with them and acknowledge how their experience makes sense. So when they become reactive over a seemingly innocuous comment from a parent about their cooking, remember that their 12-year-old self might be showing up, feeling hurt that they can never perform up to their parent’s expectations. 

Re-envisioning the holidays

Collaborate with your partner to create a mutual holiday vision:

  • Examine potential stressors or triggers, acknowledge your own defenses and reactivity, and be curious about feelings that arise when in family situations.
  • Establish healthy boundaries for how you both will engage with family, connect with each other, and take time alone if needed.
  • Assume your partner’s best intentions, even in moments when you feel hurt or attacked.
  • Make appointments to dialogue and check in with one another about your relationship, the space between you. Does it feel safe? Does it feel connected?

The Imago toolkit

When the holiday whirlwind of your partner’s family dynamics hits, remember the Imago toolkit: assume your partner’s best intentions, validate and empathize with each other’s stories, and revel in the safety and connection that come from keeping the space between you sacred during the holiday season. 

By staying connected with your partner, you’re not just weathering the holiday storm; you’re embracing challenges as opportunities for healing and growth, reinforcing the idea that you and your partner are creating wholeness together. Here’s to love, resilience, and navigating the holiday rollercoaster as a united front!

If this article appeals to you read more by Caitlin here. Find a therapist here.