The realities of our domestic circumstances rise to the surface in no better time than during the holiday seasons. Divorce lawyers are kept working overtime during the holidays with a sharp increase of couples filing for divorce. Ironically, holidays are branded as a time of togetherness and joy yet studies are showing its insidious dangers. From heightened expectations, financial burdens and increased interaction with extended families proving to be too much for some couples who call it quits by January.
Expectations of what our family ‘should’ be doing place toxic pressure on families. Holidays snaps on Instagram and social comparisons place unwanted weight and dissatisfaction in the home. America’s leading family therapist Cloe Madanes states that “one of the easiest ways of achieving great unhappiness in life is to compare our lives to others.” And social media does just that. A platform where your life is on display (parts of your life you want presented of course); giving the viewer a distorted assumption of one’s life. According to experts, our mindless yet innocent holiday snaps can erupt already vulnerable families into warfare.
Dr. Susan Davis, psychologist and author of Emotional Agility, reveals that “studies show those seeking happiness as a goal end up becoming the most unhappiest people.” Especially during these seasons in which we are expected to have a heightened sense of pleasure and happiness rather than being realistic.
Islam does not talk about happiness as a goal to seek in life. Rather Allah talks about this idea of seeking contentment. In the Quran one of the word for contentment is used is sakeena. The word sakeena comes out of the word sakeen, which is the Arabic word for a knife. When one is slaughtering an animal and slice it’s neck, the animal stops moving. The animal experiences sakeen, it is in a state of rest. Sakeena is a gift that is sent down from the heavens to the hearts of believers. Yet humanity is using the external such as holidays, beauty, lavish homes to fill this internal contentment.
As the modern world has increasingly isolated us; the loneliness is far more apparent during the holidays. OnePath Network spoke to leading family psychologist Sara El Mercy who revealed that the holiday seasons have the “highest rates of depression and suicide. Those without loved ones nearby feel the gap.” However, on the flipside those with family in close proximity can also experience different types of issues. Although Islam emphasises the importance of strengthening the ties of kinship; boundaries are crucial especially for those who are being harmed by family members.
Festive seasons can be a breeding ground for marital disputes especially with increased interaction with extended families. During the year we are often distracted with daily work and routine but come holiday season we are often faced with endless family gatherings. El Mercy highlights that “high levels of stress and anxiety are present even with extended families being around as confrontations are less likely to be avoided.” Toxic relatives exist in almost all families; El Mercy advices “it is essential to be focused on your wellbeing and being aware of the relationships that drain you and those that energise you.” Proximity is power, yet some family gatherings are unavoidable.
Giving us a survival kit, she advises us to “limit proximity and place physical boundaries, do not disclose personal information or ask personal opinions.” Keeping conversations light can help avoid disputes and misunderstandings. Before being in the presence of toxic family members, preparing oneself mentally beforehand allows you to “tolerate their presence for a period of time but being a guarded fortress in which you do not allow their comments to affect you personally”. The futile endeavour of aiming to change people around us often leads to failure, but we can control our emotions and expectations.
Holidays can also prove to deliver serious financial strain on families. Come end of season many couples are left with a pile of debt they are unable to pay. Debt accumulated from buying gifts, holiday outings, time off work, etc.
Kat Robey, an esteemed counselor, states that “if the couple are already in disagreement in ways to handle the family finances then the holidays mark a tipping point with added frustration”. Furthermore the “holiday season being who do we buy for, what parties do we go to; these things are expensive and add on and place strain on relationships”. She advised we have the conversation beforehand “from a curious standpoint on what the holiday should look and what should we be spending on and what suggestions and parameters should we set?”. She warns that these important conversations should take place in a sensitive manner as couples often feel judged and defensive on the issue of money.
OnePath Network interviewed accountant Walid Chaker who gave savvy tips on managing your finances during the holidays to avoid these pitfalls. “Problem is most couples don’t plan beforehand and lack self-control come holiday season.” Living in an age where money is easily lent “people are quick to take on bank loans and end up falling into serious debt once the holidays have passed. My experience from previous clients is that people are spending beyond their means, falling into these traps are leaving them with repayments they’re unable to pay.” This in turn is creating tension with spouses especially if they operate differently towards money. He advises “plan throughout the year how money should be distributed.” He cautioned the dangers competing financially and to “live within your means, I have clients with seven-digit figures that suffer insomnia due to repayments. Be wise with your boundaries and know your money limits.”
The holiday season can bring about mixed emotions. To tackle the season remember the temporal nature of this fleeting life, to stay grounded with your expectations, be reasonable with spending and place priority on your wellbeing.
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