The holidays are a magical time – you just have to watch any Hallmark movie to know that. We feel goodwill toward everyone, our hearts are open, and children are especially delightful, right? Well, no, not so much. In fact, for many couples, the holidays cause an added layer of stress and anxiety that can push a relationship to it’s limits. So how can you cope with the added pressure of the holidays and keep your relationship healthy and happy at the same time? Here’s a hint – it’s not Christmas magic.
Surviving the holidays as a couple, whether your relationship is new or you’ve been together for years, can take some finesse and planning. Even if we try to ignore it, the hype of the holidays adds pressure to be joyful and make things “perfect” that can put flaws you may otherwise overlook under a microscope. Add to that family interactions and increased social commitments and you can find what seemed to be a stable relationship will start to crack. Preventing, or at least minimizing these challenges, isn’t impossible, however.
Preventing the Stress
One of the biggest things you can do to create a peaceful holiday with your partner is to plan. Addressing the likely pitfalls ahead of time may not mean that you avoid them all together, but they can certainly make them more manageable. There are four key areas to discuss as you head into the holiday season.
- Money. This is a big one throughout the year in general, but during the holidays it’s crucial as spending is outside of the norm. Money is also one of the biggest stressors and sources of arguments in every relationship hands down, so agreeing ahead of time on budgets and the who-to-buy-for list is so important. Most of us would say, “Ok, I knew that one and we’ve got it covered,” but there are few areas that always slip through the cracks. For instance, tipping, gifts for teachers or co-workers, groceries for holiday meals, stocking stuffers, and even gas costs if you are traveling to parties or to see family are all incidental expenses that easily get overlooked. The holidays – Christmas through Valentines – are notorious for nickel and diming and before you know it you budget is blown and so are tempers.
- Expectations. This isn’t related to gifts, but to what you really want out of the holiday time. I worked with a couple who would struggle through the holidays every year and could never really explain why. Upon discussion it became clear that the issue was conflicting expectations. For her the holidays had always been a happy time with family, friends and traditions. For him they had been stressful and dreaded because of family problems and divorced parents. She expected him to step up to her merriment and he expected her to join him in his disdain. Because they never talked about these things and what they each wanted and needed from the other they made each other miserable for nearly three months each year. Couples are well served by having a conversation before the holidays really set in that goes over how they want to and hope to enjoy the season and what that looks like.
- Responsibilities. There’s a lot of rushing around and need to “get things done” during the holiday time. This can be everything from decorating to grocery shopping to gift purchases. Often in a relationship these things fall on one partner much more so than the other. Plan ahead of time on who is going to do what. If you expect your partner to shop for his or her family themselves, or you assume that decorating should be a joint effort, have this conversation before it becomes an argument.
- Social commitments. There are parties for work, friends, family, the kids, etc. It goes on and on. While this can be a delightful situation in some cases, it can also tax an already busy time of year. The spirit of the season is happiness and joy, but you may never realize that if you don’t take time to stop and enjoy things. This may very well mean picking and choosing where you spend your time. Creating a reasonable calendar of social commitments and ensuring that you build in family and couple time is a process to be undertaken together. Remember, it’s okay not to do everything, just make sure you’re respectful to your partner and the things that are important to them.
Doing these things won’t prevent every aspect of holiday stress, but they will go a long way in reducing many of the most common problems.
How To Cope When The Stress Mounts
Not all stress during the holidays is preventable. Unfortunately, there will always be things that come up during this time of year that are unexpected and push the limits of your relationship. At these times communication is your most important skill and coping mechanism. As a couple you are in this together and you are ultimately looking for happiness together, so when times get tough – talk.
You don’t help things when you keep problems to yourself at any time of year. But at the holidays you both run the risk of derailing an entire season if you don’t deal with issues as a couple and as they arise. Don’t worry about upsetting your partner or ruining the holiday by discussing the things that are causing stress. Without good communication those things will compound and make things exponentially worse overall.
The holidays really can be a wonderful time. It’s one of the few times of the year that there is a collective social agreement to show appreciation for those you love and the blessings in your life. Really getting the most out of this time, however, can be a challenge. It can be especially challenging for your relationship if you aren’t careful. So before you each end up on the naughty list and lose sight of the spirit of the season, take some time to make a list – and check it twice.