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Video: Avoid these common holiday quarrels

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    SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, anchor: This morning on TODAY'S RELATIONSHIPS , holiday bickering. It really is the most wonderful time of the year but all the hustle and bustle can put a lot of stress on your relationship, too. So here with strategies for avoiding five common holiday fights is Jill Herzig , editor-in-chief of Redbook magazine , and psychotherapist Robi Ludwig . Good morning to both of you. Good morning.

    Dr. ROBI LUDWIG (Psychotherapist): Good morning.

    Ms. JILL HERZIG (Editor-in-chief, Redbook Magazine): Good morning.

    GUTHRIE: So Jill , you asked your readers to send in what their most common holiday fights with their spouse or significant other, what they were and these were our responses, right?

    Ms. HERZIG: Yes. Our Facebook was flooded with responses. This is what came to the top because it really seems like, you know, you pull out that box of holiday decorations and with it comes this big bag of ye old holiday arguments. And it's time to settle them.

    GUTHRIE: Well, it makes sense. Yeah, there are some stresses and also a lot of demands on time.

    Ms. HERZIG: Yeah.

    GUTHRIE: So let's get to our first one. I love this situation one.

    Ms. HERZIG: Sure.

    GUTHRIE: A reader wrote, "His family comes but I end up doing all the work." This has got to be a common one, Robi . How would you handle it?

    Dr. LUDWIG: Yeah, and I think Jill and I were talking about this, that couples have very prescribed roles and very often it's the woman who's taking care of all of the homemaking, entertaining type of rules and efforts for the family. And so you really need to tell your guy what you want if you need some help because it's going to be common for him...

    Ms. HERZIG: Yeah, entertaining is a two person job.

    Dr. LUDWIG: Yeah, yeah.

    GUTHRIE: But he's not going to read your mind.

    Dr. LUDWIG: He's not going to read mind.

    GUTHRIE: So you're saying be direct about it.

    Dr. LUDWIG: Be direct. Ask him for what you need. Compliment him when he does a good job in listening to you.

    Ms. HERZIG: And don't be a crazy perfectionist about this.

    Dr. LUDWIG: Yeah.

    Ms. HERZIG: If you're going to get his help, you have to say OK, he does it his way, I do it my way, and...

    Dr. LUDWIG: That's right .

    GUTHRIE: Right. Just because it wasn't the way I would have done it, doesn't mean it...

    Dr. LUDWIG: Exactly, it's not wrong.


    Ms. HERZIG: But no reading minds, be very clear.

    GUTHRIE: Yeah, no psychics. OK, our next one I love, it's inevitable when it comes to shopping during the holidays. "We can never agree on how much to spend on the kids. I want to shell out more than he does." I mean, this gets really tough because...

    Dr. LUDWIG: Yeah.

    Ms. HERZIG: Yeah, it is tough. And this is actually the argument that we have in our house.

    GUTHRIE: Yeah.

    Ms. HERZIG: Because I'm a little bit more of splurger. And where we came to on this was it works out best if you figure out gifts that are somewhat practical and educational. Like, for example, my tweenager is ready to get a cellphone. We put it off until Christmas because we know we're going to have to get that but we can -- I still feel like I'm splurging a little bit on her to get her the cellphone that she wants. Or if your kid is, let's say, a wonderful guitarist, you know, get him the guitar that he needs. It feels generous.

    GUTHRIE: This really goes to the heart of well, first of all, financial fights, which is a big one in any context.

    Dr. LUDWIG: True, right.

    GUTHRIE: But also the kids, and people's traditions about whether to go big on Christmas .

    Dr. LUDWIG: You may want to find out what your partner's history is in terms of the holidays and spending money.

    GUTHRIE: Yeah.

    Ms. HERZIG: And sometimes you have to go -- defer to the person who's really better with money in the family and the person who's the voice of reason .

    GUTHRIE: I want to get to all of them, so let's pick up the pace and get to the next one. "I always put a lot of thought into his gifts and he always gives me some stupid perfume."

    Ms. HERZIG: So common.

    GUTHRIE: Yeah.

    Ms. HERZIG: This came up with so many women. And really, you just have to hint and hint loudly.

    Dr. LUDWIG: I say just be direct.

    GUTHRIE: Yeah.

    Dr. LUDWIG: You know, cut out pictures, say what you want , go shopping together...

    Ms. HERZIG: Sure.

    Dr. LUDWIG: ...on, you know, a date and say, 'Let's pick out our together.'

    GUTHRIE: Yeah.

    Dr. LUDWIG: But I think the bottom line is to not get too caught up in the gift and think about who's your partner.

    GUTHRIE: Yeah.

    Dr. LUDWIG: Is he really thoughtful in general?

    GUTHRIE: All year round.

    Dr. LUDWIG: And that's what matters.

    Ms. HERZIG: All year.

    Dr. LUDWIG: Yeah.

    GUTHRIE: OK, next one, the in-laws again with this someone wrote. "We argue about having to go to his parents house and because they live far away we have to spend the night and there are a lot of people staying there." I mean, so many people have this scenario.

    Ms. HERZIG: Yes, yes.

    Dr. LUDWIG: Yeah.

    Ms. HERZIG: And when you get married, you're doubling your family. So to a certain extent you've just got to accept that there are these new scenarios you're going to find yourself in. But the really important thing is to get yourself a break. If it's an overcrowded house, be that person who runs out for eggnog. Get five minutes to just breathe and be together.

    GUTHRIE: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. LUDWIG: Yeah.

    GUTHRIE: And then very quickly on our last one. This is funny, "I like the holiday decorations to be down by New Year's Day but he likes to keep them up longer."

    Dr. LUDWIG: Yeah, I mean...

    GUTHRIE: This isn't going to end a marriage but.

    Dr. LUDWIG: See who it -- right, right.

    Ms. HERZIG: No.

    Dr. LUDWIG: See who cares about it the most. But if it's up until Valentine's Day , you're barking up the wrong tree , yeah.

    GUTHRIE: Yeah.

    Ms. HERZIG: If the tree becomes a fire hazard it's time to come down.

    GUTHRIE: That's a good rule of thumb. Jill Herzig and Robi Ludwig , good to see you.

    Dr. LUDWIG: Thank you.

updated 12/7/2011 8:51:57 AM ET 2011-12-07T13:51:57

Dr. Robi Ludwig

The holidays can conjure up lots of emotions: some positive and some not. Part of what stresses people out is the anticipation of what’s in store for them when they see their family. It’s true the holidays offer an opportunity to bond with family members who we don’t normally see; the problem surfaces when we are with family members who we’ve gracefully avoided all year long.

Even those who love and look forward to spending time with their families can’t entirely avoid all of the personality tensions that present themselves during this time. But with a little bit of effort, you can resolve to make this holiday season better than ever before.

Takecomplete control of your attitude. Your goal is to be proactive about your actions and responses. This means that you make a commitment to think,  respond and act differently than you have in the past.

Adjust your expectations and find your sense of humor. For example, if your difficult sister-in-law boasts about how gorgeous and successful her kids are, remember, you can’t change her. Figure out what you’re able to tolerate in her, and then come up with a plan to gracefully avoid, guide or even enjoy her as well as the other various personalities who grace you on this day.

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Be purposeful. Remember your goal and purpose for this holiday. Don’t be reactive in the moment. Think about how you want to act and don’t let any provocative, negative family member get in the way of your goal.

Avoid trouble spots. Stay away from loaded topics like politics or topics that are highly adversarial. Think ahead about how seemingly innocent topics might impact those around you. For example, the “Why aren’t you married or pregnant yet?” question, which some might think is benign, can actually be experienced as judgmental or upsetting.

Learn something new. Show some interest in those around you, and find a way to experience your family from a different perspective. Perhaps this is the year you learn something new about each other.

Take care of yourself. It’s always easier to be your best self when you eat well, are well-rested and don’t drink too much. Take time to exercise, enjoy some alone time and seek out people with whom you enjoy spending time and influence you positively.

And last but certainly not least …

Be grateful. There are always things to be grateful for in our lives, so focus on them. Studies consistently show gratitude is a major booster of happiness. Feeling grateful also diminishes feelings of annoyance and resentment. It’s an intricate part of this holiday, and therefore very useful in taking the stressout of this busy season. It might even good for putting some of the joy back into it, too.

The bottom line is, if you behave differently toward others, you will find that the people around you will behave differently to you — even your most difficult of relatives! Now go make this holiday better than ever.

Dr. Robi Ludwig is a national TV commentator and psychotherapist who practices in New York City. She is also the author of the book “Till Death Do Us Part” as well as a contributor for both Care.com and TODAY.com.

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