Vulnerability: The Best Gift for Anyone

As we get closer to Thanksgiving, you are probably starting to kick your holiday preparations into high gear.

But amid your shopping, decorating and travel planning, I want you to steal a few moments for one simple activity that will set the stage for a more meaningful season.

Now is a great time to watch or rewatch Brene Brown’s seminal TEDX talk “The Power of Vulnerability.” It will take you only about 20 minutes.

The holidays can stir up all sorts of feelings and expectations that make you feel more vulnerable this time of year. You may already be feeling some anxiety and stress in anticipation of all that needs to be done before year’s end. Of course, looking cheerful while trying to tame your perfectionism over every detail makes this a much harder task!

Some of you are anticipating sadness and heartbreak about loved ones who will not be with you this holiday. All these emotions can be so powerful that it can be tempting to hide from them through overeating, overdrinking or overspending.

The gift we all really want is to be able to share our vulnerable feelings with others and still feel safe and loved. Unfortunately, many of us — even kids — have had experiences that make us feel unsafe being vulnerable.

Making Space for Vulnerability

You can’t make people be vulnerable with you. But you can create an atmosphere of love and security that encourages vulnerability. What might that look like during the holiday season?

  • Deciding to skip a party you had planned to attend because your husband is at the end of his rope with end-of-year work stress.
  • Not telling your shy kid they “shouldn’t feel that way” if they voice nervousness about seeing their raucous cousins.
  • Taking a timeout from holiday activities to be with a friend who’s grieving or going through a crisis like divorce or a family illness.
  • Giving your aging parents some one-on-one time to just talk to you instead of getting lost in the busyness of the season.

When you show up for others in ways like these, you build trust and intimacy in your relationships which is necessary for anyone to be vulnerable.

Of course, you also need relationships where you can be vulnerable yourself. Before things get too stressful, think about who gives you a sense of safety and acceptance. Who can handle it when you’re not feeling merry and bright? Who would take it in stride if you need to express sadness that your budget is smaller this year or that your parents are having some health troubles?

If you feel that you and your husband are not open and vulnerable enough with each other, think about some small steps that might help bring you closer. You can’t just go from closed off to totally vulnerable overnight — and neither can he. Instead, think about a low-risk way you can test the waters. Maybe that’s something as simple as asking for his help wrapping gifts when you would usually handle the job yourself. You could use that opportunity to connect and find out how he’s really doing. Slowing down your flurry of activity and engaging creates opportunities to share any vulnerability either of you are experiencing.

I hope that this holiday season brings you closer to everyone you care about, especially your husband. To keep strengthening your relationship together, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Put Self-Care on Your Holiday To-Do List

The holiday season is here! Are you ready? Our already-long to-do lists get even longer as we add shopping, decorating, cooking, traveling and even burning the midnight oil at the office to prepare for our time off. 

Amid this frenzy of activity, self-care is often the first thing to go. As women, we can be so focused on making everything “perfect” for the special people in our lives that we overlook our own needs.   

I’d like you to think about this in a different way, though. If you aren’t caring for yourself, you can’t really show up for the people you love. You’re more likely to be tired, stressed and critical. On the other hand, if your own needs are met, you can be fully, joyously present with others. And that’s the best gift you can give them. 

So how can you practice self-care when you’re crazy-busy? Here are a few ideas. 

  • Need help with something? Ask. In particular, don’t expect your husband to read your mind about what should be done or how you would like it done.
  • It’s a joyful time of year, but there are also plenty of things that can make you feel stressed or upset – from work deadlines to family tensions. Make a list now of healthy ways to relieve your stress (practicing yoga, doing a mindfulness meditation, reading something inspiring, talking with your friends, etc.) and refer to it often.
  • Nostalgia can be a lovely part of the season. But pay attention if you notice you’re longing for “the way things used to be” – and can’t be again. A family death, divorce, estrangement or even a move can dramatically change your holiday season. Honor your grief, and work toward embracing the present and starting new traditions.
  • You may not have time for your usual workout schedule, but don’t take an “all or nothing” approach. Do something physical every day, even if it’s just a walk around the block.
  • Similarly, don’t totally abandon your healthy eating habits even as you indulge a little. Take the time to fully savor your food, especially your favorite holiday treats.
  • Say no. To social plans when you need some quiet time. To second helpings when you’re already full. To whatever you need to.  If the word “no” makes you uncomfortable, read my past blog article on reclaiming your boundaries.
  • Don’t “soldier on” if you’re sick – all that does is delay your recovery.
  • If your perfectionism can get out of hand this time of year, do a reality check with your family. What’s really important to them? (They might not even notice all those “magazine-perfect” touches you obsess over!)
  • If anything starts to feel like too much – your in-laws, crowded stores, even decorations and music — take a break. You can even plan ahead for some escape time. For example, stay at a hotel instead of with your family or schedule a massage to escape from shopping.

 Enjoy this season of giving – and remember to be generous with yourself, too.

One Foolproof Way to Make the Holidays Happier


This time of year, you’ll see plenty of articles about how to have the happiest holiday season ever. You’ll find no shortage of advice on how to deck your halls, craft handmade gifts, start beloved traditions and dazzle at parties.

That’s all well and good, but I want to make things much simpler for you. Today I’m going to share with you one tip that could make this the least stressful holiday season you’ve ever had. It’s free. It doesn’t require crafting or cooking skills. It works no matter which holidays you observe. And it doesn’t have an expiration date. In fact, I hope you use it well after the last New Year’s celebrations have wrapped up.

What’s my magical tip?

When people get on your nerves, assume that they’re not doing it on purpose.

Trust me, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try out this mental shift in the coming weeks. What if you stopped assuming things like this?

  • Your husband leaves all gift shopping to you because he doesn’t value your time.
  • Your friend posts pictures of her perfect decorations and gift-wrapping to make others feel inferior.
  • Your brother is always late to gatherings because he’s trying to tick you off.
  • Your mom only picks at the holiday meals you prepare because your cooking isn’t fancy enough for her.

The truth is, we’re all pretty self-involved. We don’t think very much about the ramifications our actions have on others. Unless a person has shown you before that he’s malicious (in which case you’ve got a whole other issue going on), it’s more likely that he just doesn’t know how he’s affecting you.

When you assume someone is being clueless instead of downright nasty, the whole situation suddenly feels a great deal lighter. You let go of resentments and start seeing constructive solutions.

Getting Past Assumptions

Since this blog focuses on how to strengthen your marriage, I would especially encourage you to stop assuming your husband has bad intentions when he does something that disappoints or irritates you.

The holiday season can be a time of high expectations, so it’s prime time for assuming the worst!

Let’s go back to an example from above:

Your husband leaves all gift shopping to you.

 You’ve been assuming you know the reason for this behavior. You’re absolutely certain that it’s because he doesn’t value your time, so he’s intentionally passing the gift shopping off to you.

But what else could be behind his behavior?

  • Maybe he thinks you love gift shopping.
  • Maybe he believes you think he’s terrible at choosing gifts.
  • Maybe his own mom did the shopping for their family and he just assumes that’s how all families do it.
  • Maybe he doesn’t realize how long it takes and that it affects your schedule that much.

It’s also possible he really doesn’t value your time, but it’s important to be sure that’s the case before you work off that negative assumption.

Sometimes it’s easier to start by assuming your husband isn’t doing anything to you on purpose and just letting him know how his actions affect you. That could sound like:

With both our families growing, we’re gift shopping for more people now. Taking care of it all is leaving me pretty stressed. You’d be helping me a lot if we could start dividing up the gift list.

As an experiment this week, pay attention when your husband or anyone else pushes your buttons. Notice whether you automatically assume the worst about their behavior. If you do, try replacing that assumption with the belief that the other person isn’t trying to hurt you. How does that make you feel? Let me know how this mental shift works for you during the holiday season and beyond.

Holiday Stress: Stop It before It Starts

holiday stress

It’s a sign of the season, just as surely as decorations appearing or holiday music hitting the airwaves. As the holidays get closer, I start seeing more and more tense people in my psychology practice.

The “most wonderful time of the year” can also be the most stressful and exhausting time of the year, and couples often take out that stress on each other.

As you are planning your holiday shopping, travel and entertaining, I want to encourage you to also plan now how you are going to deal with the stress of the season and how you might create more peace and happiness for yourself. You probably already know what usually stresses you out this time of year. By making some different choices now, before all the holiday hubbub is in full swing, you can create a different experience for you and your family.

Do a check-in. What does having a wonderful holiday season truly mean to you? Take time to think about this now, before you are bombarded with advertisements and pressure from others. Talk about it with your husband and family too. You may find that while you’ve been worried about magazine-perfect decorating, that your family really just loves the same old decorations you put out every year, or that they remember your funny or sentimental gifts more than the expensive show-stoppers.

Be realistic about time. When the holiday season starts, we can set really high expectations for ourselves: We’ll cook everything from scratch! And use new healthy recipes! We’ll make crafty gifts like the ones on Pinterest! We’ll decorate like this magazine spread! And then there are all the parties and visits you want to fit in, and your kids’ holiday programs and … Is it starting to feel like you should quit your job to make all this happen? You can only work with the time you have, and as much as you stretch it, not everything is going to fit. What can you rule out now, based on what’s truly important to you during the holidays?

Involve your husband. It’s early November now, and I am betting that many of you reading this have already started your holiday prep and planning. Perhaps a few of you have even finished gift shopping! Now think about your husband. Holiday stuff may or may not be on his radar yet. If it’s not, don’t fall into the trap of taking care of everything before he even thinks of it. That’s a recipe for resentment! Take a little time to figure what needs to be done, and work together to get the stress level down. If you don’t treat him like your assistant or someone whose just getting in the way, the holiday season may actually bring you closer.

Deal with people as they really are. Maybe it’s because we love the stories of how Ebeneezer Scrooge and the Grinch changed their ways at Christmastime, but sometimes we expect the holiday season to work its magic on the difficult people in our lives. While you can always hold out hope that your own Grinches will change, think about how you can have a happy holiday season even if they don’t. How do you want to respond when they push your buttons?

Set some healthy limits. While your mother-in-law probably won’t stop being passive-aggressive and your brother won’t quit needling your husband about their political differences, what you can change is how much time you spend with them. If possible, stay at a hotel instead of the home of relatives who set you off so you can have some downtime.

Plan for self-care. One of the things that makes us stressed and snippy during the holidays is being out of our usual routines. We eat too much, drink too much and skip our workouts to go shopping. Before all the temptations start appearing, consider how you and your family can enjoy some indulgences, but maintain the healthy habits that will keep you feeling good physically and emotionally.

Change it up. Holiday traditions can feel set in stone, but you may find you need to switch up some old routines to make this a happier, less stressful time. Do you want to take a trip together as a family and avoid “making the rounds” of relatives’ houses? Can Thanksgiving be a potluck instead of you doing all the cooking? Do you want to work with your family to cut down on the number of gifts everyone has to buy? Let people know now so they can get used to your new plans.

Finally, when you catch yourself thinking that everyone else seems to be having a better holiday season, gently turn your mind away from these thoughts, focus on what is working and try to keep a sense of humor about the rest. Remember that there’s no such thing as a “perfect” holiday season, so relax and enjoy yours in all its wonderful imperfection.