Managing Relationship Stress During The Holidays
Neighborhoods are beginning to twinkle with holiday lights for Christmas. Christmas trees appear everywhere you look. Peace, love, and joy fill the atmosphere with one exception – your home. Unfortunately, stress is beginning to build, and with that comes the inevitable conflict. Relationships suffer, and loving feelings are scarce. Disputes over where to spend the holidays, which traditions to uphold, how much to spend on gifts, and the stress of shopping, even online, take the “ho-ho-ho” out of the season. So how can you be proactive and minimize the stress and damage the holidays bring?
Plan and establish traditions.
Traditions create connection, security, and intimacy in who you are as a couple and as a family. These are important for establishing your identity as a separate family unit.
Each person brings their own family culture and traditions to the relationship. That is likely to include traditions centered around the holidays. However, expecting to bring those traditions into the marriage can create conflict when those traditions and rituals clash.
Have a conversation about which traditions from your family of origin are most meaningful to you. If you each could choose one tradition, which would it be? Include your best and worst holiday experiences and how to avoid repeating them in the discussion. What holiday experience have you both enjoyed together, and is it feasible to repeat it each year?
Manage the triggers of you and your spouse.
For various reasons, the holidays can be difficult for many people. If a loved one who played a significant role in your life has recently passed, the holidays can magnify the loss. If this is the case, change your holiday routines and perhaps establish some new traditions that don’t spotlight the absence of your deceased loved one. For example, instead of Christmas dinner at the dining table where the loved one occupied a particular chair, have a Christmas brunch buffet and sit anywhere you want in the family room. You can also talk with your spouse and children about ways to remember and honor the person who has passed away.
Music, lights, events, people, sounds, smells, food, alcohol, etc., can all trigger painful memories. Do your best to understand these triggers in you and your spouse and avoid them when possible. If avoiding them is impossible, plan how to help each other when either of you is triggered.
Sometimes even just lowering your expectations for the holidays can help. It’s often the moments when you’re most trying to make the holiday perfect for someone else that you end up steamrolling over your spouse’s emotions.
Practice damage control
If you and your spouse have the same argument or a negative pattern of relating to one another every holiday season, take some time to plan to minimize the effects. Plan how you will approach the argument or sensitive areas. Identify what triggers are involved for either or both of you. Talk about how you each feel about each area and make suggestions on how you would prefer to handle it. Seek to understand your spouse’s perspective and feelings first. Practice empathy. Compromise. Negotiate. Go for the win-win solution. Nobody wins if somebody loses. If one of you loses, you both lose! It’s practicing conflict resolution ahead of time so that your holiday spirit doesn’t dampen or dissolve entirely.
Have fun together, apart from others.
Sure, the holidays are about family, travel to be with family, office parties, children’s activities and programs, travel, etc., but don’t neglect each other. In particular, carve out the time to grant yourselves a reprieve from the frenzy and focus on each other. Spend a day in bed or on the couch watching Christmas movies and drinking hot chocolate or wine. See Christmas lights. Rate each house and choose your mutual favorite. The internet is full of ideas if you need help. Many of them are inexpensive or low-cost.
Make a mutually agreed upon budget.
It is so easy to overspend in the season of giving. But so many fights and misunderstandings can be avoided if you will take the time to make a budget for the holidays. Be sure to include not only gifts but an increase in food costs and decorations.
Regarding gifts, talk about how much you would like to spend for your children, family members, teachers, friends, etc. Be sure to include some for unforeseen gifts, just in case.
Give of yourselves- together.
Volunteer for a worthy cause with your spouse. Help to provide blankets, gloves, and coats for the homeless. Help to host a Christmas party for children in an impoverished area. Don’t pass by a Salvation Army bell ringer without donating in their bucket. Find out the opportunities in your area and involve the kids if appropriate. Many churches have options for serving those in need. A more profound sense of gratitude and appreciation for your blessings will grow from your participation. Giving of time, self, and material resources celebrates “the reason for the season” in the best way.
There’s no way to avoid the stress of the holidays altogether; however, the season can be enjoyed and celebrated with proactive conversations and planning.
If you would like to discuss how we can help you and your relationship, don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected] or call 866-218-1716. You may also visit our website, www.LoveRecon.org, for testimonials and information.