Overcoming Anger

How to break the cycle of arguments, put-downs, and stony silences.

Happy Holidays? How to "Expect" Yourself Into Disillusionment and Relationship Discord

Happy unrealistic holidays! Setting yourself up for happiness or irritation.

This is the season to be "jolly," to be "home" for Christmas (or whatever you celebrate) and to "Deck the Halls" with whatever holiday decorations and traditions you have grown up with----Right? Well, I wish you a very Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays and that all of your dreams and plans for this season come true! But, let's get serious. This is also a very stressful time filled with such high expectations as to be almost impossible to fulfill. While we are busy looking forward to a week of joy, reminiscing and good food (while also somehow expecting--hoping?-- that we won't gain weight) this is also a time when our expectations can far exceed the reality of our possibilities. And the result of unmet expectations is discouragement and, yes, anger, the subject of my new blog. When our expectations are not met we often get angry and it is important to examine if these heartfelt hopes are based on a factual past or likely future.

Here are some examples: "We will eat Christmas dinner on time this year." "Our children will get along and share--all three of them sitting in the back seat of the car-- on our three hour trip to Aunt Mary's," and "I will have a wonderful and very happy time time reminiscing with my adult siblings, who I haven't seen in a long while!"  What do you think? From your own experience are these realistic visions of what is likely to occur? Perhaps, but I would ask you to put them to the ultimate test: In the factual past how many times have these expectations been met up until now?" And given that, is it likely that your dreams will come true this year? Am I sounding gloomy and pessimistic? I hope not! But I would ask you to preview what you are expecting for the holidays and for family members before you find yourself disillusioned and irritable, having set yourself up by expecting your spouse/partner, your children and family members to do things and act in ways they rarely have done before---setting them up to fail and yourself to feel badly when it happens. But keep in mind: your realistic expectations may not be so bad! You may not all end up singing Christmas carols in complete harmony, but you will all be there trying your best to not expect too much and to appreciate what does happen and the realistic blessings you do have to behold. 

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W. Robert Nay, Ph.D., is a Clinical Associate Professor at Georgetown School of Medicine, and the author of  Overcoming Anger in Your Relationship.

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