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This past Thanksgiving, a girlfriend shared how she was getting together with her extended family the day of the big feast. She would be arriving in the morning and then departing before the dinner. She was anticipating that her family would be disappointed that she was not staying, so we discussed what that would look like and her worst fears about the conversation.

I asked her to describe her ideal day with her family. Guess what? It did not involve staying for dinner and then driving home (a 2-hour drive) late at night; her best day included seeing everyone, connecting, sharing stories, and catching up, It didn’t even mention the big meal, the alcohol or the late drive home. So this is what would work for her. She could clearly articulate her ‘limits.’

This is What Would Work For Me

Guilt free, no need to explain other than to say “this is what would work for me.” How often do we put others needs ahead or our own when there is likely a way to meet the needs of others within a limit? I love limits, they are more flexible than a harsh boundary or a strong stance.

How do you communicate your limits when a love one wants more? Whether “more” looks like more time with you, more help, more money, more of your family presence at a meal etc. you set the limits. First, find the beauty in their request and validate it. Then state your limit. I will put this into an example or two.

Example One: After a brief 2-day visit, a loved one hopes you and your family will stay for a big family dinner, after which you are driving home from Ottawa to Toronto. If you stay for the dinner, you will be driving from 8 pm to 1 am (if all goes smoothly). You don’t want to do this.

First validate by saying something like, “It is rare that we can all get together for a formal meal. I know, this is important to me also. The formal dinner is a beautiful idea. It just doesn’t work for me in this visit.

If you can, offer an alternative within your limits: “A formal lunch could work. To make it easier, I can bring the meal and help set up. This may not be what you had planned yet we still get the time together.”

Example Two: A loved one wants to spend more time with you than you can afford, or want?

First validate: I love the time we spend together. I feel how much you love me.

Set the limits: I have 2 hours today to spend with you, how would you best like to spend that time?

At What Cost

Example Three: What do you do when you strongly feel you do not want to spend time with part of your family over the holidays but feel the expected pressure? Evaluate the impact on the relationship. Do you want to maintain it, would not spending any time together hurt the relationship? Do you have to travel far and stay for an extended time? Take in all of these considerations.

Validate: Every year we spend time together over Christmas. As it so happens, this won’t work for us this year. I know you feel disappointed, but can we work out a way to feel connected even if we are apart.

You may get challenged: hold your ground and be kind by saying something like, “This is our family trying something different. We are keeping more to ourselves and finding what we need to feel rested and rejuvenated. We have a limited amount of time during the holidays and are limiting our excursions.”

By honouring your limits, you are honouring yourself

You may get more challenges. If you have not had limits in the past, then others will be surprised. If you give in, then you will be back to square one. Relationships with family can be tricky. There are expectations that Christmas is a time for big visits, which can be exhausting emotionally and physically. Know your limits, practice them with integrity, and be kind to yourself and your loved ones. By honouring your limits, you are honouring yourself and that is a beautiful thing.

Your family may realize the value of setting limits for themselves as well… the best gift you can give. 

Do you need help making Christmas less stressful? Do you need some practice setting limits? Connect with Juli Fyfe, Life Coach, today.


Written by: Juli Fyfe, Life Coach