When we enter the holiday season, many families experience conflict when they face the, sometimes dreaded, question, “Where will we spend the holidays?” You may experience a lot of extended-family conflict answering this question if your relationships do not occupy the appropriate space.

In 1966, Edward T. Hall developed the theory of proxemics, which is the study of the human use of space within the context of culture. The four relational spaces in which we interact: Public, Social, Personal, and Intimate. In each of these spaces we connect, we commit and participate, and we find connection significant.

As a child, your parents exist primarily in the intimate space, and your siblings or close friends interact with you in the personal space. As your relationships change over time, social relationships may turn to personal relationships, i.e. a boyfriend or girlfriend; when you get engaged, your personal relationship begins to transition into an intimate relationship. And while your parents may still occupy the intimate space for you, it is healthy for them to transition into the personal space.

But what does this mean for the holidays? Whether you are single or married, you can take defining steps to reduce the stress and anxiety that comes when you have to decide where you will spend your time.

Steps to navigate the holidays and maintain boundaries

  1. Understand that your extended family has expectations for what the holiday should look like. If you know what their expectation, you can decide which of these events or activities you fit into your schedule.
  2. Agree in advance with your spouse, or with your close friends, how you plan to spend your time. Have this conversation early, so that when conversations about the holidays begin, you already know how much time you have to spend with extended family.
  3. Communicate with your family. If you let them know the week before that you will not spend the holiday with them, you will effectively dash expectations and plans for the day. Plan to have these conversations in September or October unless it’s appropriate to share earlier in the year! If you have decided to spend the holiday in another way, understand that your family may be disappointed with your decision.

The holidays can bring so much stress, but we can take defining steps to create special memories with those we hold close!

Don’t miss the rest of my conversation with Katherine Hill. We discuss this and MORE on The Bearing Life® Podcast.