While the holidays are often touted as the most wonderful time of the year, they also bring an added load of expectations and expenses. As you and your partner attempt to juggle your social and professional calendars, care for kiddos if you have them, and somehow manage to sleep at night, you can quickly grow disconnected. Though this is normal, working through stress within your relationship is important to ensure your bond is strong. In addition to remembering the festive season will come and go, try these tips from any situation you battle as a team.
Stressor #1: Family
While you love your parents, your partner’s parents, and all of the aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, and brothers — family relationships tend to tread on the love/hate line. The holidays are when we gather with those near and dear, which sometimes means you’re staying with relatives or hosting them for days (or weeks). This not only disrupts your routine and cuts into your couple time, but it’s also exhausting to always be “on.”
Solution #1: Set boundaries
Psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist Dr. Lee Phillips says family quickly becomes one of the most common stressors for any relationship. “When partners particularly host family during the holidays, this can be stressful because your in-laws or your parents can annoy you because they are set in their own ways, they may nag, and you may not care for their attitude,” he adds.
Meet the Experts
Dr. Lee Phillips is a psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist.
Aja Evans , LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor and financial therapist for Laurel Road, a digital banking platform.
Susan Trotter , Ph.D., is a relationship coach.
The best way to manage family is to talk with your partner and develop an “action plan” for setting personal boundaries. As Dr. Phillips explains, boundaries exist in all relationships, and they are your limits on how people can treat you, how people and family behave around you — and what they expect from you. “This can be very difficult, especially if you grew up in an enmeshed environment where there were no boundaries,” he says.
Not sure how to approach this conversation? Dr. Phillips suggests trying your best to be gracious and respectful while sticking to your guns. As an example, if your mom comments on your weight, you can say: “Mom, please don’t talk about my weight while you are here. It hurts my feelings and I already told you this.”
Stressor #2: Finances
While money matters are always a boiling point year-round for most couples — particularly those who live together — the holidays make it a hotter topic. Each year, we have to make financial decisions regarding gifts, home decor, travel, and event attendance. These add up fast, but in 2022, the bills may become overwhelming, says Aja Evans, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor and financial therapist for Laurel Road, a digital banking platform.
“People are more aware of how inflation has shifted their budgets, the federal student loan freeze will be ending this year, and the potential for a recession is weighing heavily on people,” she explains. “Managing your finances and emotions during all this can be quite stressful.”
Solution #2: Set and stick to a budget
Instead of stretching yourself too thin, Evans suggests deciding on a budget — and sticking to it together. Will you be flying to your great uncle’s house — or would you rather have a Zoom celebration and save the cost? Instead of giving a gift to each of the twenty cousins, would a game of white elephant be suitable? Have these frank conversations and try your best to listen to one another.
“Communication between the couple is paramount, so they are on the same page around spending not only their time, but their money,” says Evans. “I encourage the couples I work with to have a conversation around expectations and budgets.”
Stressor #3: End-of-year work demands
While you may feel like everyone you know is throwing some sort of holiday celebration — happy hours, brunches, you name it — you are also expected to end the year strong professionally. End-of-year goals are often demanding and challenging, mainly since there is a clear deadline: December 31. You may find yourself bringing home more work than you’re used to, which takes away time from your partner. Relationship coach Susan Trotter, Ph.D., says this can lead to increased tension, fighting, and disagreements.
Solution #3: Make a game plan, stat
Rather than having a midnight yelling match, Trotter says to make a game plan together ASAP. If you know the first week of December will be intense because of reviews or obligations, map it out, so your partner is prepared. She recommends putting your phones away (except maybe the Calendar app) and discussing expectations, plans, and priorities. “Doing this early will immediately reduce the stress because the couple is not already in the throes of the holiday season when tensions can run high,” she says. “Being calmer will subsequently set couples up for better communication and problem-solving.”
Stressor #4: Gift giving
It’s exciting to give and receive gifts, especially when you find the perfect sentiment you know your one-and-only will love. Whether you intend to or not, gifts hold a certain expectation, and it can be stressful to know if you’re measuring up. For example, while you may be excellent at remembering the espresso machine your partner said they would love, they may be less thoughtful. This isn’t better or worse, but it’s a mismatch that warrants discussion.
Solution #4: Be clear on expectations
That’s why Dr. Phillips suggests discussing the parameters of gift-giving before you “add to cart.” These might include:
- How much will you spend on one another?
- Will the gift be a surprise or planned?
- Do you want to skip gifts?
Perhaps this year, you’re more focused on saving for a big trip or a new home. In this case, you may not want to spend your dollars on a random gift. “Use assertive communication, telling your partner your thoughts and ideas, and then ask them what they think. This way, you are not dismissing their feelings,” Dr. Phillips suggests. “It is important to validate each other. This helps you be clear on your gift-giving expectations.”
Stressor #5: You’re emotionally overextended
You’re not alone if you feel exhausted, depleted, and pushed to your max day in and day-out. That’s stress in a nutshell, and it heightens during the holidays. As Trotter says, stress can lead to impatience, tension, arguments, and disconnection for couples. And, the holidays can amplify the stress and subsequent impact because of the increased demands on time, finances, energy, and expectations.
Solution #5: Set aside alone time — and couple time
“Be especially compassionate with yourself and with your partner when under stress. Remember that people are generally doing their best, and showing appreciation and attention can go a long way in maintaining connection even when stressed by the holidays,” she says.
The best way to keep your relationship strong is to ensure you still carve out time for yourself and for one another. This could be as simple as enjoying a glass of wine at the end of a long day, a walk around your neighborhood to see the holiday lights, or binge-watching your guilty-pleasure show. As Trotter reminds us, finding ways to connect when under stress can greatly prevent smaller problems from getting bigger.