More on the subject of holiday traditions

Last week I talked about finding other options when you aren’t able to be a part of your “usual holiday tradition.”

This week, let’s talk about the challenges that come up for couples celebrating special occasions (birthdays, holidays, etc.) Because each person comes out of different traditions — different expectations get set for what will and won’t happen around the celebration. (This isn’t about religious differences, although that would be a great discussion for another day.)

I’ve found this to be a common challenge because we’re all raised by different families. Things done by our individual family seem “normal” and “expected” to us. And we don’t really know what is happening inside other families.

So the biggest challenge is “no one knows what they don’t know”.  Nothing is “right or wrong” – it’s just different. And if you don’t know the differences exist, then you don’t know to ask the other person how they handle specific situations.

For example, let’s talk about Martha and Joe. Martha was raised in a family that makes a huge fuss about birthdays – singing happy birthday at the breakfast table, first gift of the day on their plate, friends and family calling with birthday wishes throughout the day, favorite meal prepared for dinner along with more gifts and singing. (You get the idea.)

Martha starts seriously dating Joe. Joe comes from a family who loves him just as much. However, Joe’s family celebrates birthdays by giving one special gift at the end of the day, singing happy birthday, and blowing out a candle on a cupcake.

Both Martha and Joe feel loved by their families and know their birthday is special.

You can imagine what happens when Martha waits for her partner to make a fuss (like Martha is used to) about her birthday, and it doesn’t happen in any of the ways she was expecting. Major disappointment. And Joe will have no idea what went wrong. The opportunity for hurt feelings and misunderstandings multiplies.

Both Martha and Joe haven’t pinpointed what they really want and need. Therefore, they’re not able to ask for it. Additionally, many people believe that because they are in love, their partner “will just know what I want because they love me.”

How to avoid this? Ask yourself:

  • What do I need and want that will make my special occasion feel special to me?
  • What traditions are important to me?
  • How do I want to feel at the end of the day and what things need to happen to help me feel that way?”

Knowing these answers prepares you to:

  1. Tell the other person your expectations.
  2. Hear the other person’s expectations.
  3. Create a compromise that works for both of you.

These steps will help you both feel your wishes are being honored. Along the way, you’ll have wonderful opportunities to create new traditions.

Has this happened to you or your friends? If so, let me know – I love hearing from my readers.

May the magic of the season be with you!

~ Christine
Dating and Relationship Expert

Goal Setting + Purposeful Dating = Satisfying Relationships


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4 Responses to “More on the subject of holiday traditions”

  1. Laurie Cantus Says:

    This is such a great subject Christine. It’s not something I personally ever put much thought into until it became an issue in my own relationship. You make a good point that knowing exactly what you want will help prepare you to “Tell the other person your expectations.” I think that a lot of people wouldn’t think to tell their partner what to do, but I can tell you – it works great! (thanks for that advice BTW)

    I had great success with actually telling my husband exactly what I wanted and expected for a holiday gift one year, and I got exactly what I asked for. Amazing. 🙂 Maybe you could do another post telling your readers how to approach this subject with their partners. I think it’s tricky – you don’t want to come right out and say “wow, you suck at giving presents, let me tell you what you’re doing wrong.” lol And then you don’t want to tiptoe around the subject so lightly that they don’t get that you’re sending them a message.

    Maybe you can break it down for us – what’s the best way to tell someone that you like…appreciate the new hamster, but you would have preferred flowers. (okay, nobody ever gave me a hamster, but that would be funny…not really.)

    • Christine Says:

      Congratulations to you Laurie on your success. I understand you were able to figure out what you wanted, tell your husband in a way that he heard it and that’s exaCtly what he gave you. And I definitely appreciate your sense of humor when you mentioned some of the challeges associated with gift giving.

      Thanks for the great suggestion to discuss the best way to navigate this ‘as you accurately put it tricky subject’. Look for this subject in the near future.


  2. Deb Morton Says:

    My husband and I tend to buy gifts that are more on the experiential side than things although sometimes we buy our own gifts and even wrap them for ourselves. I can hear the gasps, but we always get what we want and he loves that I love my gifts from “him.” Also, we plan trips or special outings together that often serve as our gifts.

    As Christine said gift giving can work a lot of ways in families, so it’s just finding common ground.

    • Christine Says:

      Thanks Deb for sharing the fun ways you and your husband have personalized your gift giving. The experience of “doing” something together is definitely a wonderful way to create unique memories that go way beyond the experience itself. In my coaching experience the “agreement” you’ve reached regarding purchasing and wrapping your own gifts tends to create a very clear communication style which leads to happy and healthy marriages. You have each kept one of the most important (happy relationship) points in mind, ‘what would make my partner happy?’

      Hope to hear from you again in the future.

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