Will unrealistic expectations for Christmas ruin your day? Again?

By Liz Paul, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

It’s supposed to be the season to be jolly and yet many of us find achieving this state of mind very difficult.

For many of us, it is our own expectations of others that set us up for disappointment.

For example:

  • Will you finally receive that special gift from your partner, the gift you have been secretly hoping for?
  • Will your parents accept you can’t stay all day with them?
  • Will all your relatives turn up on time so the meal doesn’t get ruined?
  • Will everyone get along with each other this Christmas?
  • Will the hosts be mindful of your dietary needs?
  • Will your adult children stay at the table to engage with their extended family?

We need to ask ourselves: are our expectations of others realistic?

Probably not.

Everyone has their own stresses at Christmas time.  And we can’t expect them to spend the season worrying about our expectations.

But we can change the way we think about Christmas and our expectations to help us make this year’s Christmas Day more ‘jolly’ and less disappointing.  For example:

1. Have a think about why your expectations seem to be higher than others. For example, are you worried people won’t respect you if it all doesn’t run like clockwork?  Does the day, and each of its components, and each human interaction, all need to be perfect?  Of course not.  And few guests, if any, will judge you poorly if it’s not perfect.  In fact, they’ll probably be relieved, because then the bar won’t be set so high when they host Christmas next year.

So, reframe your expectations, turn them into ‘desires’ and work with you partner to achieve some of them.

2. The holidays are full of choices: gifts, guests, travel, money and much more. Many of these decisions are the source of a lot of stress for each member of the family. So don’t bulldoze your way into the season intent to make Christmas Day work the way you have it playing out in your head. Remember, your partner, children and extended family also have their own expectations of how the day will play out.

Tip: At least one month before Christmas start having a conversation with immediate family around what each person would like to see happen and discuss how some, but not all, of these expectations can be met.

This is also a good time to enlist help from each family member.   Do not martyr yourself, share the workload.  Each family member can choose a task to be responsible for before and during the day. Stick this list on your fridge so each family member can refer to it.

Remember, saying ‘thank you’ goes a long way – and it’s a critical factor in helping to ensure this tradition continues for many years.

3. Every year you work hard at trying to achieve the perfect day, each time feeling overwhelmed as you try to be the perfect host and balance expectations of different family members. And every year you hope your partner will step up and give you a hand, so you can also enjoy the occasion

When this doesn’t happen you feel cheated, disappointed and angry.

Make this year different.  Sit down with your partner and together create a list of the things that each of you will do before the big day and during it.

4. Each family member will turn up on the day and almost certainly will behave like they do every Christmas. Don’t expect this year will be different.  It almost certainly won’t be.  Thinking otherwise is just unnecessarily setting yourself up for disappointment.

5. Take a couple of moments for yourself throughout the day and mindfully reflect on what things you have in your life that you can be grateful for – whether or not the day is going to plan.

And try to reflect on all the things that are going well on the day, rather than dwelling on the things that aren’t.

What are the issues for which most people seek assistance?

  • Relationship break-ups
  • Constantly fighting with your partner
  • Loss of intimacy with your partner
  • Communication problems with your partner or child
  • Difficulty parenting toddlers or teens
  • Pre-marriage counselling
  • A child misbehaving
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Family counselling
  • Wanting to separate from their partner amicably
  • Helping the children cope after a relationship break-up
  • Trouble staying in relationships
  • HSC stress for students and their families
  • Relationship commitment issues
  • Problems at work
  • Couple counselling
  • Difficulties with step-children
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Problems with in-laws
  • Substance addiction
  • Facing major life changes
  • Making new life choices
  • Relationship counselling