Making Your Holiday Happy

Cyndi Doyle talks about ways to make your holiday happy when others set out to cause conflict.


There is a holiday song that always makes my husband and I laugh. It is Bob Rivers singing “The Twelve Pains of Christmas,” and it’s funny because it is sadly and hilariously true. The lyrics are the first thing about Christmas that’s such a pain to me and he goes through a list. The first one is finding a Christmas tree, rigging up the lights, and hangovers. The fourth one is sending Christmas cards, five months of bills, and the sixth one is facing in-laws. He goes through other stressors as well like finding gifts, crying kids, charity donations, crowds, parking, you get the point. We all know that the holidays can be stressful and overwhelming. Let’s add on the pressure for families to magically get along and you have a very dysfunctional bow on a very stressful holiday package.

There can be conflict within your own family around supporting law enforcement, pressures to visit people, making the perfect dinner, and looking just so perfect for that event that you have to go to. At times, family and friends don’t really understand that you as an officer, or your spouse can’t just survive on two hours of sleep to go to that family dinner or be present at the exact time that everybody’s getting together.

So how do you get through the holiday without overwhelming anxiety or anger?

How do you be with people who know just the right thing to say to trigger you?

Maybe you wind up feeling incredibly small or maybe you want to blow up and tell them off?

How do you support your spouse when you know that they’re triggered by your family or theirs?

Let’s talk about some of the conversations to have as a couple and how you can learn to respond to those people who know how to push your buttons so you can get through your own happy holiday.

Many times, we’ve had an idea or a vision of how we want the holiday to go. Those ideas can be interrupted many times by the culture of law enforcement because we must adjust to things along the way. It is important as a couple to talk about expectations to avoid conflict.


Find out what your spouse and/ or kids are hoping to experience during the holiday.  What needs to be done to make your holiday complete? Some examples include:

  • Pictures with Santa

  • Family Dinners

  • Opening of presents

  • Driving around and looking at lights

  • Day in Pjs

  • Church or religious ceremonies

  • Running around to see all the family

  • Rest, renewal, sleep

As a couple, once you know what the expectations are, find out the similarities and differences without judgment! Rate them to determine how important they are out of all the other experiences. Choose the ones that are the same and decide what you’re willing to let go of. Then make sure you look at the time and the energy you have available to potentially do some of the ones that are important to your partner. Lastly, find out what support you need or are willing to give surrounding expectations. They can look different depending on how a person associates memories surrounding the holidays.

Traditions and Rituals

Establish rituals that are calming and comforting by having a family conversation about how to establish traditions in your house. Ask the questions:

What were your family rituals growing up?

What do you want to incorporate now?

What do you want to incorporate as a couple currently or as a family currently?

What is calming and comforting?

Rituals can include preparing specific foods and watching certain shows or experiences. Remember, your family can be just you and your spouse.  You don’t have to have children to make a family.


You must have flexibility during the holidays! You or your officer might get called in.  Someone may get sick. Travel may get delayed. Together, talk about what flexibility is going to look like and have a backup plan. Inevitably, hiccups are going to happen.


Once you as a family have your expectations and traditions set and scheduled as best as you can, then incorporate others. Make sure that you’re thinking about who the people are that you want to incorporate while making sure you have boundaries around your family and what you want to do.

Protect your time and energy. You don’t want to get through the holidays exhausted. This may mean buying pre-cooked food, limiting travel, or ordering out. Keep in mind that it’s okay to say no to family gatherings, having company over, or hosting. No is a complete sentence! If you choose to participate in family gatherings, have a code word or sign with your spouse that signifies you need help and want to leave. Holidays are to enjoy, have fun, and connect. Make things simple and memorable.


At times, the holiday season can bring conflict. When conflict ensues, someone will pressure you to do something you don’t want to do or say something offensive. They may even try to bait you into an argument.  Here is how you can handle it without losing your cool.

  • Be aware of your own triggers.  How does your body react when it feels shame or goes into fight or flight?  Learn this so you can take care of yourself.

  • Be aware of your spouse’s triggers and how they present in their body. Do they clench their jaw or make fists? Once you learn this about yourself and about your spouse, you can help them when they’re in a situation where they’re almost losing their cool, feel small, or feel criticized.

  • Silence is powerful.  Saying nothing can say so much.  This doesn’t mean to be rude by not responding.  You can use short phrases to acknowledge and move on.

Verbal tips and tricks to protect yourself.

After you’re aware of your triggers and you know that silence or saying no is an option, there are ways that you can verbally respond to protect yourself, time, and energy.

When someone wants you to do something you don’t have planned or don’t want to do, here are suggestions on how to answer:

  • “Let me think about that.”

  • “We have so much planned already, I’m not sure we can do that.”

  • “Thanks for asking.  We already have plans.”  (Even if it’s to stay home)

If someone is pushing their opinion or making a snarky comment, here are some phrases to keep in mind to protect your space.

  • “That’s an interesting opinion or interesting.”

  • “I know that you think/feel that way.”

  • “Good to know.”

  • “Thanks for sharing.”

  • “Oh well.”

  • “Thank you for letting me know that/sharing your thoughts/sharing your insight.”

  • Smile and nod… hmmm

  • Come up with another topic.  “Don’t you just LOVE Dolly Parton”  “I really enjoy baking bread”

  • Get out of a situation physically

  • Refresh your beverage

  • Help someone

  • Engage with someone else

  • Walk outside for fresh air

  • Go to the bathroom

  • Play with the animals or the kids

  • Help in the kitchen.

  • Run an errand / go for a drive.

If passive-aggressive comments make their way into conversation, nod your head.  Don’t take the bait and give them the satisfaction of your response. Lean into it if you are brave and try to depersonalize the comments or put a positive spin on it.

  • When you hear this: “I sure wish I had a grandkid.”

    Say this: “We are doing it as much as we can.”

  • When you hear this: “You never spend enough time here.”

    Say this: “There just isn’t enough time to go around.”

  • When you hear this: “I wish I could go on vacation.”

    Say this: “Aren’t they just the best?”

  • When you hear this: “You sure look “healthy”.”

    Say this: “Why thank you”

  • When you hear this: “You’ll grow out of your baby weight.  Your Dad did.”

    Say this: “What your grandmother means is that you are perfect the way you are.”

  • When you hear this: “Don’t be so anxious like your mother.”

    Say this: What your grandmother meant to say is she hopes that you can relax and have fun.

Having these phrases in your back pocket allows you to have some space and to think about what you want to do next, whether that is to respond or to leave the situation altogether.

Remember, you CAN get through the holidays by using these strategies. It’s hard to navigate the holidays, but you’re the only one that can make the holidays happy.

Happy Holidays from our families to yours!!!

Keep it Code 4!



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Making Your Holiday Happy

Cyndi Doyle talks about ways to make your holiday happy when others set out to cause conflict.