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Thanksgiving is NOT a time for stress!  It is a time to be with family and friends.  It is a time to be with the one you love.  Thanksgiving is a time for reflection on loving someone and being in love.

We have all seen it—the grandest of Thanksgiving plans come crashing down with the reality of the situation.  You work feverishly cooking a delicious Thanksgiving dinner for the extended family, only to be left with a pile of dirty dishes while everyone else retires to watch football.  What a bummer!  

Stress, stress, stress!!!   Thanksgiving can be among the most stressful times in a relationship - make no mistake about it.  The mere thought that some of the "rogue" family members are coming to your home, the high cost of everything, and the preparation time required, are enough to send you into a state of depression.  Combat that feeling!

Here are a few tips to help you and your spouse lower your stress leve l and have the best Thanksgiving ever, in spite of the potential stressors coming your way:

1. Appreciate the traditions within your family and your spouse's family, even if they are different.   Blend them together in a way that both you and your spouse agree on and make new memories together.  Don't feel compelled to follow the exact same traditions of one family over the other without a full discussion of what you both want to create.  In the end, together, you can create your own "traditions."  

2. Talk about what you both want to do for the Thanksgiving Season - what are you and your spouse's highest priorities?   Have this conversation as soon as possible so you can both feel good about your plans.  Then, let all the other Thanksgiving "stuff" go by the wayside.  Maybe you will agree on a big dinner with family and friends.   Maybe the two of you will decide to serve dinner at a shelter or deliver meals to those in need to experience the joy of Thanksgiving in a meaningful way.  It is your choice, but decide it together.  Thanksgiving should be a joyous time, a thankful time.  

3. Take a moment in the midst of the chaos and pressure of Thanksgiving to focus on what really matters – the love of your spouse.   Give your spouse your respect, your understanding, your embrace, your kiss, and your time.  Don't let the relatives and friends put a wedge between you and the one you love because of the stress and circumstances surrounding the holiday season.  

4. When problems arise – as they always do – talk openly and honestly with your spouse.  Discussions about serious matters must always begin with agreement about what the issues really are.  Work to identify the issue, establish the parameters of the discussion, and secure mutual agreement to solve the problem together.

5. Anticipating the natural feeling of stress that occurs around a holiday season will help you be prepared to deal with it.   As the stress rises, so does the opportunity for argument and disagreement.  When the tension is so thick that you can cut it with a knife, it is easy to let nasty statements and sharp words roll off your tongue, making judgmental statements about your spouse, their actions, and their relatives.  Think twice before using vitriolic words that cannot be taken back.

6. The simple things matter at Thanksgiving .  Keep things simple and relatively inexpensive.  Thanksgiving is all about sharing, being thankful for the bountiful harvest of friendship and love, and breaking bread together with friends and family.  It should not be about how elegant or sumptuous the meal is.  Many extended families are spread out across the country and the world.  Find ways to connect for the Thanksgiving holiday, even if it occurs by telephone, email, or video call, and not in person.

7. Thanksgiving doesn't have to be perfect!   It is more important to build memories together for Thanksgiving.  Invite the family and friends to share in the dinner preparation and holiday decorating.  The relationships built are more important than holiday perfection.

Our final thought is to make this Thanksgiving the best ever by keeping your focus on what really matters—the love of you spouse, your family and your friends.

By Drs. Charles and Elizabeth Schmitz

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