How Assumptions Stole Christmas

Good communication doesn't require a lot of time but it does require you to be intentional. 

Continuing in my series called #HolidayHelp, I want to help prepare you for the communication issues that threaten to sabotage our holidays. 

The first post in the series examined the pressure 4 distinct phrases contributes to holiday blues. Read that post here.

Today's post is about the importance of avoiding assumptions by discussing expectations and dividing responsibilities with your spouse or significant other. 

Let's look at a scenario that is based on real life events.

Jake hadn't seen his college friend Omar in a long time. Jake and Omar were now husbands and fathers. They decided to have their families finally meet for a pre-Christmas dinner. Jake's wife, Liz, was just as excited to visit too. In the days leading to the visit, Jake talked about how good it would be to see Omar again. Liz prepared for the trip by packing bags for their 3 yr twin girls. The morning of the dinner they set off. Jake regaled Liz with stories of his college days with Omar. Liz could tell Jake was really excited. She was excited to meet this great guy as well.

When they arrived, Jake jumped out of the car and greeted Omar with their customary dap/hug. Much back slapping and reminiscing commenced. Jake was so caught up that he forgot to help Liz get the kids out of the car. He also forgot the kids nap schedule and committed to taking two tired kids on an outing. An outing during which Liz had primary responsibility for watching the cranky kids. Throughout the visit, Jake was having such a great time that he forgot he was a husband and father. He was free to just enjoy the familiar camaraderie of just being with his friend. It was the best time Jake had had in a while. He thought that memories of their visit would carry him and his family back home in harmony and bliss. After the good byes , Jake and his family got in the car to go home. He turned to his wife and knew it wouldn't be a harmonious ride home.

Have you experienced something similar? A trip or gathering that you thought would be a great time turned one sided...meaning one side was having fun. And one side was doing all the work. But what happened with Jake and Liz? Was Jake just incredibly insensitive? Was Liz faultless?

Doesn't matter. What's more important? Jake and Liz didn't talk about expectations and responsibilities...they just assumed!

Discuss Expectations

If you are going to a gathering, consider these tips beforehand.

  • Take time to discuss what you expect from your spouse/date.  This doesn't have to take a long time. Is it a work function? A family gathering? A charitable event? Discuss what concerns you anticipate and how your sweetie can help. Do you want verbal support? Smile and nod? Talk about it.
  • Determine how long you will stay. Are you going just to show your face? Do you need a half hour or ten minutes to do so? 
  • Discuss how you will handle the unexpected. Create a code word or phrase that means "I need to talk to you" without having to say it in front of everyone. Not only will this eliminate embarrassing moments, but it will also create a more intimate experience between you and your sweetie. It could be a question like "have you seen my cell phones?" For my husband and me, our phrase is "hammer time". Yes, just like the MC Hammer song. When we whisper our word to the other, we know we it means we need to speak in private. When we first started doing it I thought it was a little corny. But it is a cute inside joke that brings us together. 
  • Discuss the intangibles. It is not always possible to plan for everything that will happen so discuss guiding principles. My husband would prefer I make him of list of dos and don'ts. I would prefer he intuitively deduce my needs. Neither is realistic so we discuss guiding principles. We discuss what we did in past gatherings that we really appreciated.For instance, inevitably the men gather in the man cave somewhere and the women gather in the kitchen. I tell him that appreciate when he emerges from the man cave ever so often to check to see if everything is okay with me. He tells me that he appreciates when I don't talk to me like I am one of the kids. The principle behind my statement: I appreciate him showing consideration. His statement: I appreciate you speaking to me with respect. These are guiding principles that drive our interactions during the gathering.

Divide Responsibilities

This is particularly important if you have children or if you are traveling. 

  • Discuss the challenges traveling with put on your usual family schedule and dynamic.Will the kids go to bed at their usual bedtime or be allowed to stay up a little later? 
  • Divide who will do what. Whether it is caring for kids, splitting the drive time, gassing up the car, packing or unloading. You can do this before or at the time. Before you get out of the car, it is as simple as saying, " I'll get the kids. You get the bag?"

Assumptions will ruin your holiday. 

“...if they don't tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don't understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don't have the courage to ask questions.” ― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

Assumption was the death of Jake and Liz's holiday gathering. Jake had assumptions and expectations about what meeting Omar and so did Liz. The problem was that they didn't discuss their assumptions or expectations with each other. 

Even if you know your honey like the back of your hand, he/she can and will surprise you. Talk about it. By encouraging dialogue, you are creating the culture of open communication flow. 

You can't read minds. You can't hold people accountable to a standard that was never spoken [Tweet]. 

Use your communication skills to help you and your family have a great holiday by discussing expectations and dividing responsibilities.

Tell me the success ways you handle holiday gatherings? Leave a comment

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