Holiday Boundaries

Setting holiday boundaries is important for our health and our relationships.

Posted Nov 22, 2016

Shawn Burn
Source: Shawn Burn

While the holidays are about giving, holiday boundaries insure our physical, emotional, and financial health. Setting boundaries may be about saying ‘no’ to people’s requests for your help or giving, or about declining holiday invitations and houseguests (for more on houseguests, see "The Trouble With Houseguests). Boundaries may be about changing or ending a personal tradition of holiday service or gifting to others. Party or holiday events may also require your boundary setting. You might feel called to gently counter or challenge prejudiced comments. As a matter of personal integrity or empowerment, you might have to stand up to unacceptable words or behaviors directed at you or others.

One key to effective boundary setting without drama and relationship damage is assertively setting your boundaries in a calm, simple, and direct way without shaming or blaming the others (even if you think they deserve it). Here are some examples of simple holiday boundary setting phrases:

  • “I’d love to host at my house again but it will have to be potluck and I’ll need help cleaning up afterwards. I hope you’ll understand that I don’t have the energy I used to.”
  •  “I’m complimented you’d ask me to help but unfortunately I have too much going on and I need to turn it over to someone else this year.”
  • “Dad, we’ve talked about this before. It’s not a lifestyle choice, it’s who I am, and I hope that one day you accept that. But let’s not ‘go there’ right now. Let’s move on to another topic so our disagreement doesn’t ruin everyone’s holiday and we can enjoy one another’s company.”
  • “I know it’s a free country and I appreciate that you’re entitled to your opinion, but that language makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t want to fight about it and ruin our good time, so let’s change the subject.” [Then change subject]
  • “Please don’t say that to me. It makes me uncomfortable even if you mean it as a compliment.”
  • “Please don’t touch me like that. I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s inappropriate and I’m not okay with it.”
  • “Please don’t make those jokes about [group] in front of the children. They’re real copycats and telling those jokes could get them into trouble at school and hurt their friends’ feelings.”
  • “I know that I’ve done X for as long as anyone can remember, but my financial situation no longer permits me to do that. I know it’s the end of an era but it can also be the start of a great new one.”

If people resist your boundary, be ready to pleasantly repeat a variation of your assertive statement:

  • “I wish I could but I really can’t, thank you for understanding
  • “I appreciate how strongly you feel about X. I feel strongly about it too and I think it best we not talk about it for the sake of having a good time”
  • “Yes, I get that you don’t think it’s a big deal, but it is to me, so thank you for respecting my wishes”

A lot of times what we really need is to set holiday boundaries with ourselves. Those of us that routinely get into holiday trouble take on too much responsibility for other people’s holiday happiness. We feel selfish if we don’t conform to long-held family holiday patterns. We put up with unacceptable behavior at holiday gatherings because we don’t want to make other people uncomfortable. Our perfectionism adds to our holiday stress and workloads. While we enjoy the holidays and making others’ holidays merry and bright, we dread and resent the added workload and obligations. I encourage people to try an experiment this year. Give only what you can really afford to give financially and energetically. Lower your standards a bit, delegate more, cut corners, and let go of a few minor holiday traditions altogether. You can set healthy holiday boundaries without ruining the holidays. Most people will support you in taking care of yourself, and if they don’t, they’ll get over it before you know it.

For more on boundaries, see "4 Ways to Set Boundaries."

Shawn Meghan Burn
Source: Shawn Meghan Burn

For more on healthy helping and giving, see "Unhealthy Helping: A Psychological Guide to Overcoming Codependence, Enabling, and Other Dysfunctional Giving"