Making Friends with Fear

Of all the reasons why people don’t ask for what they want, #1 is definitely fear. Our fears consume us, and make it next to impossible to say our desires out loud.

Fear of rejection, fear of it not being what we hoped, fear of not getting what we want despite our partner’s efforts, fear of being laughed at, fear of being judged… The fears, it seems, never end.

But “fear” as an answer alone isn’t enough to be useful. If you want to start getting what you want in your relationships, in the bedroom, and in life, it helps to notice why you don’t ask in the first place.

In other words, what is that fear, and where does it come from?

When you notice a fear come up, pay attention to your emotions, then step into the “fear shower.” Are you afraid? If so, of what? Turn the faucet of your concerns, worries, apprehension and nervousness on as far as it will go. What do you think might happen? What will happen after that? Ask yourself these questions and write down as many of the answers as you can.

Put as many of your fears into words as you can. Then…

Don’t judge yourself for the answers that come up. Many times the fears are irrational given the current situation. For instance, you might be afraid that your partner might reject you if you ask for some change to your sexual repertoire. Your mind might go straight to “That’s ridiculous! They’re always open to conversations like this!” It’s important, however, not to dismiss your fear. Take a step back. Imagine what it might be like to ask for this change you want. Sit with it and be patient, because whatever comes up for you is trying to tell you something. Feel it all the way through. Let the answers wash over you.

Then, take a deep breath. This can feel really scary sometimes, but you won’t drown by standing in the shower, and you won’t get hurt by simply feeling through your fears.

Now, think back. Does this situation feel similar to something else in your life? Was there a time when someone did reject you for making a sexual request? Perhaps it was a past partner? Or maybe someone in your past dismissed you when you asked for something that felt vulnerable to you?

By noticing where the fear comes from, you may be able to see what it’s trying to protect you from. Sometimes the protection is unrelated to the situation at hand. Sometimes there might be something to it. Regardless, knowing what your fear wants from you is an important step to being able to speak about your needs.

Finally, do some comparisons. Look at: how is this situation similar to the past? How is this situation different? It may be the case that your partner ignored you or dismissed you in the past. Is that likely to still be true? If it was someone else who dismissed you, why are you expecting the same from this partner? How up-to-date and true are your beliefs about this current situation? How are you different than you were before? Is it possible that you have more skills and awareness than you did before?

Sometimes our fears are based in an accurate assessment of current reality. But more often, they have to do with things that happened years ago, with someone else, or to someone else. By getting intimate with your fear, and distinguishing it from what’s happening now, you have an opportunity to choose how to interact with your fears, instead of just assuming that the worst will happen.

 

 

27 Alternatives To Asking “Is This Okay?”


When it comes to sexytimes, we all want to know if what we’re doing in bed is working for our partner. Unfortunately, knowing what or how to ask doesn’t always come as second nature. You fumble, try to read clues and more often than not, “Is this okay?” tumbles out of your mouth.

Last week I wrote about why “Okay” is a four-letter word and encouraged you to break the habit of asking about it. To do so, you need different, more precise questions to ask, ones that actually get at the thing you want to know.

Pair a good question with a sexy voice and some genuine curiosity, and some serious magic will happen.

Next time you and your sweetie are about to get down, try these instead:

Yes/No questions

As we discussed in the last post, “Okay” is a maddeningly unclear (and rather low) standard for your sex life. If you are asking yes or no questions, be sure to ask about what you actually want to know. Much of the time, we want to know if we’re doing a good job, but “good job” is also not particularly well-defined. When in doubt, center your questions around pleasure, satisfaction and desire. If nothing else, it lets your partner know that you really want them to have a good time. Here are some examples:

Before

  • 8180474158_495134d66c_zWould you like it if…?
  • Would it please you if…?
  • Would you enjoy it if…?
  • Would it rock your world if…?

During

  • Are you enjoying this?
  • Do you want more of this?
  • Is this good for you?
  • Does this work for you?
  • Do you want something different?

After

  • Did you enjoy it when…?
  • Was it pleasurable to you when…?
  • Did it work for your when…?

Personally, I’m not a big fan of Yes/No questions, because I like to find out more about what makes my partner tick. But these kinds of questions can be handy if your partner isn’t good at articulating what they like, when you’re caught up in the heat of the moment, or when you just need a quick snippet of feedback to see if things are on track.

Either/Or questions

Most people are not very good at saying what they want. If you are trying to find out what your partner likes, trying something and then asking “Is this okay?” is unlikely to tell you what they prefer. But an open-ended question may cause your sweetie to freeze like a deer in the headlights. This is a great chance to give your partner options!

decisions-patrice-koerper-life-coach-motivational-speakerEither/or questions can help you and your partner figure out which general direction to head in, without having to over-think things or be able to articulate everything in advance.

  • Do you prefer a firmer or gentler touch?
  • Do you like it when I move slower or faster?
  • Do you want sexy snuggles or sleepy snuggles?
  • Do you want more tongue or less when I kiss you?
  • Would you like the rope tighter or looser?
  • Do you want me to be more allowing or more assertive [in this activity]?
  • Do you like spankings to be more “golf clap” or more “rock concert”?*

Either/or questions can be particularly helpful when trying out a new activity, when you’re trying to figure out the flavor of something your partner has asked for, or when you really want to dial in exactly what turns them on.

Open Ended Questions

Sometimes, you just need a lot more information than “Is this okay?” or “Are you okay?” will give you. You might feel emotionally adrift in an interaction, or totally unable to read your partner’s cues. In this case, open ended questions are the way to go! They can be good to ask during a lull in the action, when something seems to be off-track but you can’t tell what, or during a sexual debrief after sexytimes.

193853038_bc19cfb4a2_zHere are some examples:

  • How do you feel about what’s happening right now?
  • What would rock your world right now?
  • What would feel good to you right now?
  • How are you doing?
  • What’s going on over there?
  • How would it be for you if…?
  • How was that to hear?
  • What’s your level of interest in that?

The answer you get to a sexual question depends on what you ask. Sexual communication (like all communication) is a bit of an art form, and you’ll discover what works best for you and your partner over time. Experiment with all three kinds of questions until you discover a new standard of sexual satisfaction for you and your partner. 

* Thanks to my pal Midori for the golf clap suggestion.
Photo credit.
Photo credit.
Photo credit.

“OKAY” Is A Four-Letter Word

nookayTalking about what you want in bed (and for that matter, in life) is scary, tricky business. Admitting something you want takes guts, and no one wants to be laughed at or rejected for sharing something tender with a loved one.

Sometimes though, the pull toward intimacy and connection wins out and you get up the guts to ask for the thing you want. You share a secret desire. You make your move and then…

“Is this okay?”

“Was that okay?”

“Are you okay?”

That dreaded four-letter word rears its head. When it comes to sex and intimacy, I absolutely, without a doubt, hate the word “okay.” What’s so bad about okay? Let me explain:

1. It’s unclear.

When you ask if something is okay, it is maddeningly unclear what you’re asking. Are you checking for permission? To see if you’re still loved? To find out if your partner is willing to tolerate whatever it is you want or are doing?

What do you mean by “Okay?”

Usually, it’s some combination of the above. There’s a lot of complexity wedged into that four-letter word. And only two answers: “Yes” and “no.” (I guess silence or “um…” would be other options.)

What the heck are you actually asking?

And what is it that your partner is hearing?

You might be checking to see if your partner is on board with doing the thing, but they might be hearing that you’re asking if they will put up it.

Or, you might be needing reassurance, and their brusque “yeah” isn’t exactly doing the trick.

You might be asking if a thing is allowable in the context of your relationship, and your partner might be hearing you ask if they think you are okay, as a basic human being.

This lack of clarity leads to endless fights involving the phrase “but you SAID it was Okay!”

Sure. But nobody actually knows what that means. Asking about “okay” sidesteps more honest questions. Figure out what you really want to know, and ask about that instead.

2. It encourages gatekeeping.

“But what about consent?” you’re wondering. “How am I supposed to know if something’s okay, unless I ask if it’s… okay?!”

I’m thrilled with the attention that consent culture is getting lately. There are many people out there educating and advocating for clearer and more open expressions of consent out there, and it’s awesome.

We’ve already covered how “okay” is unclear, but there’s another problem with it.

When asking “is this okay?” one person is asking permission and the other person is acting as the gatekeeper. It’s like one person wants the sex and the other person has sex to give out. (Mainly in our culture, we act like men want sex all the time and their manliness depends on being able to get it, and women have to act like the guardians of chastity and virtue, and certainly not like sexual creatures with agency of their own, capable of co-creating a fun sexy time with their partners.)

This sets both people up to lose.

Consent is about agreements between equals about how they want to play together. When one person is trying to “get” something from another who “has” it, it’s more like applying for a permit in a bureaucracy. It’s like you sort of assume the person on the other side isn’t having any fun or pleasure.

And so we ask if it’s okay. Which leads to my third reason for hating “Okay.”

3. It’s a sadly low standard.

“Okay” is a really, really low standard to hold your relationships and sex life to.

If all the time you’re asking if thing are okay, and your partner says yes, then over time you have an … okay relationship. And an okay sex life.

You deserve better than this. So does your partner.

A whole lot better than this.

Most couples have never taken the time to talk about how they want their relationship or sex life to be. What if the standard was pleasurable, or enjoyable, or fun, or good? What if you made a game of finding things that rocked one another’s world, instead of aiming for okay?

Breaking the Habit

I still catch myself asking “Is this okay?” “Was that okay?” “Are you okay?” a few times a week, particularly with people I’m just getting to know, or when don’t know where I stand with someone. But it’s getting easier to notice and to ask something else instead. When you feel unclear or unreassured after an “okay” exchange, it’s a clue to stop, and be more precise about what you (or the other person) is asking for.

Up next: 27 Alternatives to Asking “Is This Okay?”

How to Give Feedback During Sexytimes

So there you are, in bed, having an…. okay time. It’s not that there’s anything wrong exactly. It’s just not… right either.

Telling your partner you want something different during sex than what they’re doing can be terrifying. You don’t want to criticize. You don’t want them to stop. What if they think you’re too much? What if it sounds demanding? It seems “good enough.” They’re trying. “Why rock the boat?”

But good sex only happens when your partner knows what you want. And sometimes, the only way they’ll know is if you speak up and say something. Here’s how to use your words without killing the mood:

Start with the positive.

No one likes to hear that they suck at something. Even a comment as innocent as “Hey, can you move a little to the left” by itself can leave your partner wondering if you’re enjoying yourself. Start with what’s what’s working. Even an “Oh my god, yes!” before “Oooh, a little to the left,” can clarify where you’re at and what you want.

The challenge for you is to notice what feels good. Too often when something isn’t quite right, our attention only goes to “what’s wrong.” By putting your attention on what is giving you pleasure, the focus stays on pleasure. And, when you let your partner know what’s working, they will know what to keep doing. Otherwise, they may stop altogether, and that’s not the goal at the moment.

Say what you want.

Slower. Different position. Less tongue. More lube. Pin me down. Doggy style. Look me in the eye. Breath with me. Smack my bottom. Get a condom. Hold me. Harder. Softer. Faster. Less. More. Here. Like this.

Tell your partner what you want so they know what to do.

Not what you don’t want.

It’s tempting to tell your partner what’s not working for you, but if you do so, you run the risk of 1. killing the mood and 2. not actually getting what you want.

“That’s too much tongue.”
“Stop touching me like that.”
“I don’t want to do missionary.”
“Too fast.”

None of these let your partner know what you want. On top of that, they just sound like you are complaining. Your partner may try to guess what it is you’re asking for, but activities don’t always have a natural opposite, so there’s a decent chance your partner will just end up at a loss.

Affirm the attempt.

It’s pretty common for lovers to miss the mark the first few tries, especially when you’re trying something new. Whether or not your partner “gets it,” each time you speak up, give them positive feedback for trying.

This is sometimes the hardest thing to do, especially when you don’t want to give your partner the impression they’re doing what you want when they aren’t there yet.

But sex is vulnerable. Imagine the roles were flipped. Hearing that you aren’t doing something your partner wants can be scary. Say “Yes” or “Thank you” or “mmHmm…” or “OMG EXACTLY LIKE THAT” after your partner tries to please you is both good manners and more likely to lead you to where you want to ultimately be.

This is what it sounds like.

“Oh my god, yes… A little to the left…. yes. Yes.”

“That pressure is so good. Mmm hmmm… can you go a little slower? That’s great.”

“Ooh I like that look in your eyes. Pin me down? Mmm… fuck yes.”

“I sooo want to fuck you right now. Grab a condom…. Thank you.”

“I like that whimper… If you like what I’m doing, keep making noise.. yes, like that….”

Rinse and repeat, as needed.

Sometimes, you just have to keep asking to get what you want (and even then, asking doesn’t always mean you’ll get it.) There’s nothing wrong with speaking up a lot, slowing down as needed, taking breaks, shifting to something different and otherwise mixing it up. By beginning and ending with positives, even asking over and over for something can be sexy and hot.

What it sounds like:

“Your hand feels so good on me…. More pressure please?… mmhmmm… yes… Oh, I love being close to you… a little more pressure… Yes, yes… that’s it. … … … Oh god your fingers feel so good.. Yes.. Even more pressure. That’s it.”

“Ooh I like that look in your eyes. Pin me down? Mmm… I like that…. I like you on top of me. Pin my wrists tighter? Yes. Thank you. Yes.”

“I like the way your fingers are skating over my skin. That feels so good… ooh, less scratching please… oh that’s good…. You make me shiver…. I love the lightness of that… fewer fingernails… yes… mmmm… yess… THANK you… mmmm….”

Afterward

If you’re new to speaking up like this in bed, you may be feeling insecure about how it went, or what your partner was thinking. It can be helpful to check in afterward to find out. Ask open-ended questions (not “Was that okay?”) and listen for the answer. Both sides of sexual communication are vulnerable, so give your partner space to share their side of things.

What it sounds like:

“So I was talking more in bed this last time… how was that for you?”

“I love being close to you during sex and I want to make sure that you know I’m having a good time and when something’s not working for me. How do you like to hear feedback?”

“Talking like that was pretty edgy for me. I could use some reassurance, and also, what did you think about that kind of talk?”

Practice, Practice, Practice.

Communicating well during sex takes practice, but as you continue to explore, you’ll find that not only are you getting more of what you want in bed, but you’re both having more fun as you go.

The Naked Truth About Desire Smuggling

The world is not friendly to our desires.

In over a decade of relationship coaching and sex ed, I’ve talked with thousands of people about why they don’t ask for what they want. Reasons include: not knowing what to want, not having the language to ask, and “why rock the boat when it’s good enough?”

But by and large, the main reason we don’t ask for what we want is fear.

Fear of rejection, humiliation, and judgment.

Fear of disappointment, shame, loss, or guilt.

Fear of repeating the past, missing out, hurting your partner, or feeling like a failure.

Fear of “what they will think,” not getting what you want, or putting too much at stake.

Fear rules our desires.

You know to be afraid of these things because you’ve experienced them.

  • The look of disdain on some adult’s face when you expressed curiosity about masturbation.
  • Being laughed at for your youthful eagerness and enthusiasm.
  • Hearing someone say “Ewww” after you shared a vulnerable truth.
  • Watching helplessly as a friend got judged for wanting something that seemed just a little “outside the box.”
  • Seeing people’s hearts be torn apart on reality TV, and their imperfections shredded to bits on the internet.

The world is hostile to the sweet, fumbling, imperfect nature of desire.

8172104432_c513e02472_z

And so, to cope, we hide our desires from ourselves and from the people we love. And in the process, we become desire smugglers.

Desire Smuggling: Hiding what you really want from yourself and/or a loved one, then, finding cover strategies to get (at least pieces of) what you want.

We do it to stay safe. It’s a reasonable response to a toxic environment of shame and judgment.

At the same time, desire is powerful. Even in the face of fear, rejection, guilt, loss… we want what we want. And through better or worse means, we will try to get it.

Desire smuggling is something that we all do. The stakes are high around what you truly want, and being direct can seem outright terrifying in the face of these (often well-justified) fears.

What does it look like?

How to Spot Desire Smuggling

When I teach about smuggling desire, a class of 20 people can easily come up with 50-80 examples of ways we try to get what we want when we think it’s not available. From the merely annoying to the truly toxic, techniques of smuggling desire are endlessly creative.

desirepersistantDesire is persistent and will not be denied. When it doesn’t feel safe to want what you want, you will try to get it anyway. Here are some things you might do:

  • Expect telepathy
  • Make wishes
  • Fake spontaneity
  • Get drunk/high to remove inhibitions
  • Hint
  • Ask if the other person wants the thing you want
  • Rationalize cost/benefit
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Send articles about the thing
  • Give statistics about the thing
  • Say “people like…” (instead of owning it yourself)
  • Try to convince
  • Try to get the other person to say it
  • Complain that you don’t get it
  • Be “nice” and hope to be rewarded
  • Make unspoken deals
  • Issue ultimatums
  • Emotional blackmail
  • Tack on obligation to a “gift”
  • Minimize by saying “just” or “only”
  • Guilt-trip
  • Be passive-aggressive
  • Blame
  • Want the other person to guess
  • Wait for the right time
  • Wait for a sign
  • Buy into a romance myth (“If you really loved me…”)
  • Assume they should “just know”
  • Withhold
  • Force
  • Non-consensual taking
  • Be macho
  • Be loud and bombastic
  • Punish your partner for not giving it to you
  • Attack/judge someone asking for what you want
  • Attack/judge someone getting what you want
  • Look for other, less-scary places to get it
  • Shame yourself for having that desire
  • Shame others with the same desire
  • Avoid it altogether
  • Make sugar-coated demands
  • Compromise
  • “Purchase” it by doing other things
  • Get needs met without owning them
  • Tell a story about the thing desire
  • Martyr yourself in hopes of getting it
  • Substitute something else
  • Don’t explore internal dissonance
  • Bully
  • Criticize after the fact
  • Spiritually bypass
  • Settle
  • Play options roulette (where one option is the one you want)

Desire smuggling is a clue.

Looking at this list, it’s easy to criticize, blame or shame yourself (or your partner) for doing these things. After all, some of them are pretty shitty behavior, and others are just not terribly effective for getting what you want.

When you catch yourself (or someone you love) smuggling desire, the last thing you want to do is to criticize. Instead, have some compassion for yourself, and recognize two things:

  1. These behaviors are a totally sane and rational response to an environment where desire is discounted, rejected, ridiculed, shamed and otherwise devalued.
  2. Desire smuggling is a clue that there’s something you want.

When you catch this clue, then you can do something more effective with your desire. You can ask for what you want. You can bring it into your relationships. You can share with a community of trust where your desire will be celebrated. You can explore it safely. You can apologize for not being straightforward and find new ways of creating connection with the people you love.

When it’s safe to have desire, you no longer have to smuggle it. 

photo credits: OUCHcharley, Ray_from_LA

Getting to “Fuck Yes”: Clear Communication for the Bedroom

Do you often find yourself less than satisfied with what you receive from your partner(s) and other relationships?

Do you hide what you really want from your partner, or even yourself?

Would you like to learn how to ask so that you get a “FUCK YEAH!” instead of an “OKAY, SURE”?

In this recording of a live call, we unravel and discuss the murky and mysterious issues around desire and communication, including:

  • Why we don’t ask & what we do instead
  • Desire smuggling (what it is and why it matters)
  • Why “Is this okay?” is NOT the question to ask (and what to ask instead)
  • Why “Do you want to ___?” is only 1/4 of the equation of asking
  • How to make room for fun experimentation in bed

Plus, despite some minor technical issues, we got some GREAT questions, including:

  • What do you do when your partner doesn’t “get it” and you don’t know how to describe it?
  • Given common gender dynamics, as a man, how can you make sure your female parters don’t just “go along with it” when you ask for something?
  • How do you talk about something that you want to do often, without it feeling pressured or bringing it up at a bad time?

You can listen to the whole thing here:

Or, right click to download.

8 Ways to Hear a No Gracefully

The more you ask for what you want in your intimate life and daily life, the more you’re likely to hear both yesses and nos. Rejection can sting, but there’s also an opportunity to build connection when you can hear a no gracefully, especially in your intimate relationships.

Sometimes, the “No” is direct. More often, it’s difficult for people to say no directly and it may be unclear what’s going on. As an advocate for clear communication and consent, I suggest that you take ambiguity as a No. (This will either be received gratefully, or be a gentle reminder to your loved one to communicate their desires more clearly.)

Regardless of what kind of a No you get, here are some ways to HEAR a no gracefully:

Ways to Hear No Gracefully (3)

(Download a printable, poster-sized PDF version of this graphic here.)

Remember:

  • Accepting a no doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it.
  • You’re allowed to feel sad, disappointed, angry, etc.
  • When you can radically accept boundaries (your own and others’) a space for creating new possibilities opens up that didn’t exist before.
  • In the long run, gracefully accepting other people’s nos builds trust.

12 Ways To Say No Gracefully (Without Saying “Maybe Later”)

Grace: (n)simple elegance or refinement of movement; courteous goodwill.

We all want connection. Saying no can feel terrifying, especially if you are afraid of losing connection with someone you care about. Rejecting someone you love sucks.

In many cases, even if we don’t know the person, we want to avoid rocking the boat. But “not really saying no, and then hoping that the other person will somehow magically abide by it anyway” is not an effective strategy for maintaining your boundaries OR getting what you want.

Here are a bunch of ways to say no to loved ones, strangers, people selling you things, coworkers, lovers and everyone in between. Practice them all, and find the versions that work best for you.

No Thank You final

(Download a printable, poster-sized PDF version of this graphic here.)

Remember:

  • You don’t have to justify your no. Resist the temptation to explain why it’s not a good fit, why you feel stomach-churny, or why you need to build more trust. Avoid making excuses.
  • When you state what’s true about your experience, it’s harder to argue with you.
  • You get to have boundaries.
  • “No” is a complete sentence.
  • When you say what you do want instead, it gives you both something to work from (if you want that.)

16 Ways to Talk About Consent (That Are Pretty Sexy…)

yesbymadhavaHere’s a stack of wonderful ways to check in with your partner, to find out more of what they want, and to communicate your own desires. Try some today!

  1. “Do you like when I…?”
  2. “I like when you…”
  3. “Will you…?”
  4. “How does this feel?”
  5. “Do you want me to…?”
  6. “Do you want to…?”
  7. “Is there anything you want to try?”
  8. “Show me what you like.”
  9. “Do you want to go further?”
  10. “Do you want to stop?”
  11. “Can I…?”
  12. “Does this feel good?”
  13. “Are you happy?”
  14. “Are you comfortable?”
  15. “Are you having a good time?”
  16. “Is this good for you?”

* I found this floating around the internet without citation. If you know who gets original credit for this, please let me know!

 Mighty fine thanks to Madhava for the pic.

4 Questions to Help Your Survive Your Crazy Family This Holiday Season

The Donner Party.
The threatening hordes.
The family hurricane.

What do these words have in common? They’re all terms I’ve heard my clients use in the past week, referring to their families and the holidays.

319693504_bd75a21dfaNo matter how much “work” you might have done on yourself, spending several days in close quarters with people who really, really know you (but also kinda don’t) can be crazy-making. There are explicit obligations and implied “shoulds.” You may find yourself slipping back into old behaviors like people-pleasing or not speaking up. You might have spent all year practicing asking for what you want, but when it comes to the last Christmas cookie, or making sure that you and your partner get some alone time, “what you want” slides to the bottom of the priority list and you find yourself curled up in a ball wondering what the hell happened.

Keeping your center and staying grounded, even in the chaos, can make for the best holidays yet. In that spirit, here are four questions to help you navigate the holiday season, whether you’re spending them with your blood family, chosen family, or some crazy batch of strangers you haven’t decided if you’re going to keep yet.

Question 1: What can I let go of?

Around the holidays, there are tons of rules and things you “should” do, many of which fall under the heading of “tradition.” The problem is, as you go through life and come into contact with more and more people, the traditions, obligations and expectations multiply. The pressure to participate sometimes comes from other people, and sometimes comes from ourselves. But ask yourself: Do I really HAVE to bake 4 different kinds of cookies? Could I let go of some of the decorations this year? Would the world REALLY end if I don’t go the Boxing Day brunch? What would actually happen if I took a nap instead of going to the movies this afternoon with 12 relatives?

Simplify your holiday season by opting out of the things you are doing for no good reason. Check out what you can legitimately just let go of. Ask the people around you how it would be for them if you did things a little differently this year. Remember too, that a no to one thing is a yes to something else.

Question 2: What can I accept is so?

Your ex has always been a bit of a space cadet.
Your mom knows EVERYTHING. (Or at least acts like it.)
You know your dad is going to grumble about making dinner.
This is the third year your partner has tried to quit smoking for New Year’s and he’s ALWAYS a jerk for 3 days.
And the kids never fail to wake you up at 5am Christmas morning.

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Getting angry with people for being who they are, and not being what you want them to be is a massive source of stress, especially over the holidays. Wishing they were different is one thing. Getting angry because they’re the way they are is like getting angry because it’s raining when you want to go on a picnic. If you find yourself saying that so-and-so “always” or “never” does something, then maybe it’s time to consider that that’s how it is, and make an alternate plan or adjust your expectations.

Much like a rainy day picnic, accepting what’s so is about finding workarounds and alternative plans. Which means – get creative! If your dad is going to grumble about making dinner, maybe it’s time to find a different chef. If the kids will wake you up at 5am, plan for quiet time after all the presents are opened and squeeze a nap in. If your mom wants to tell you about all of the things, be curious and ask her questions about things she actually DOES know a lot about. And tell your partner that you support his non-smoking, but you’ll be taking a little space for a few days.

Question 3: What can I do for me?

It’s so easy to get swept up in the spirit of giving that your bank account shrivels, your waistline expands, and you start to feel haggard and grinch-y. Before long, you’re snapping at the people you care about, and you’re wondering if it’s too late to return all those gifts and buy a ticket to Tahiti (or Tallahassee). Alone.

It’s time to do something for yourself. Take a page from my dad’s book and buy something you really want and wrap it up with a note from Santa. Or, take a deep breath every 20 minutes. Schedule a real vacation for a few months down the road. Go to a yoga class. Trade babysitting with the neighbors to get a night alone. Go for a run. Set aside some of those cookies you made into a special “me only” tin for you to enjoy after the hordes descend.

(If you find yourself saying, “but there’s no time!” may I refer you back up to the first question: What can you let go of?)

Question 4: What will I opt out of next year?

Much of the time we end up doing stuff over the holidays because someone else set it into motion before we had a chance to figure out which way is up. You can get sucked up into another person’s vision for the holidays, and before you know it, you are trapped in a three-day “It’s a Wonderful Life” marathon.

This is really about setting expectations early and often. If it’s too late to salvage the holidays this year, plan for next year and start setting boundaries now. Appreciate what’s good about being here or doing this thing now, while you’re in it, and then, tell the relevant person that you won’t be participating next year. Think about what you’d rather do instead. Set up a reminder for yourself for next year, so that it pops up between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

(Note to self: DON’T commit to Aunt Edna’s Handel-Messiah-sing-along-and-all-you-can-eat-buffet next year. DO schedule with Jamie and Casey EARLY.)

Best wishes for a very happy holiday season and a spectacular New Year.

 

Mighty fine thanks to Dylan Tweny for the elf pic.