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Managing expectations critical to easing holiday stress By Cal Powell

Traveling for the holidays, especially when small children and in-laws are involved, can add stress to an already hectic time for some couples.

Logistical and financial issues often crop up during this time -– honoring various family traditions and arguments over how long a visit should last, to name a few –- that can derail a well-intentioned couple’s visions of a joyous family trip.

One of the keys to avoiding undue burden is to simply manage expectations, according to Ted Futris, a life education specialist with UGA Extension and an associate professor with the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

While the “perfect” holiday experience does not exist, having a discussion with your spouse about expectations prior to departing can save a lot of grief later, he said.

“That’s important in general, but it’s especially important in more complex, blended type families,” Futris said. “How do you respect the experiences and expectations each person brings with them from previous relationships? It’s important to have those conversations: ask, listen and just be open to compromise and be willing to find something that works for everyone.”

As with any relationship, communication is vital, Futris said.

“Establish realistic expectations,” he said. “Sometimes people avoid the discussion because they know it’s not going to be easy. And it may be that there’s no perfect solution to it, but the key is being willing to find something that works for everyone.”

Futris also recommends another overlooked de-stressing mechanism: sometimes, all you need is just a few minutes to yourself.

“If you need to take a moment, take five minutes of quiet time and do some mindfulness breathing,” Futris said. “If during the day you need to step away, go and do it. Take those moments to lower your heart rate, because it’s when your heart rate is elevated that you’re less positive in your reactions. Go close your eyes for a few minutes and then re-engage.”

For more information, visit Futris’ CARE Lab page (Couples and Relationship Enrichment) at fcs.uga.edu/hdfs/care-lab/3. Read about the relationship enrichment curriculum Futris has helped develop at nermen.org/ELEVATE.php.

(Cal Powell is the public relations coordinator for the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.)

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