Holidays can be hard on couples because you’re trying to navigate family commitments and extra tasks and responsibilities. And that’s while you’re taking care of your regular schedule of work, household duties and (possibly) parenting, among other things.
But these things don’t have to overwhelm us or overshadow the joy of the holidays. Below, two relationship experts share the common issues that come up during the holidays and how you can overcome them — and actually enjoy the holidays together.
Talk about your expectations.
Couples can have different expectations for the holidays, which can create conflict. Psychologist Susan Orenstein, Ph.D, shared these examples: One partner might want quiet time with just their spouse; the other partner might want to go out with friends and attend parties. One partner might enjoy sentimental gifts, which they’ve been hinting at for months. For the other partner, gifts don’t hold much meaning. They’d prefer to spend money on trips as a couple. For one partner the holidays are a special time, while the other partner can’t wait ‘til they’re over.
To make sure both partners get their needs met, Orenstein stressed the importance of discussing your expectations. Talk about “what would make the holidays special for you.” Have each person name the things they’re looking forward to and the things they’re dreading, she said. “Share the fun of supporting what your partner is looking forward to and then learn about what they’re dreading, so you can help them through it.”
“Something that raises the anxiety between couples quickly during the holidays is disorganization and inconvenience,” said Ashley Thorn, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah.
That’s why it’s key to plan ahead. Thorn suggested taking out your calendar now, and writing down dates and times for everything you want to do. After you’re done, make lists of what you’ll have to do in order to be prepared.
“The earlier you can get the bulk of the work done, the more time you’ll have to relax and enjoy the magic of the holiday season.”
Carve out time together.
“Plan time just for the two of you where you put each other first — no others allowed and that includes no cell phones,” said Orenstein, the founder and director of Orenstein Solutions in Cary, N.C.
For instance, you might do anything from seeing a holiday show to taking a walk around your neighborhood. Even if you have 30 minutes, time together can go a long way in keeping you connected.
Having too many events boosts your stress, limits your time to connect as a couple and doesn’t leave any room for flexibility, Thorn said. That’s why she suggested focusing on your most important holiday traditions and relinquishing the rest.
If you miss a certain tradition, just add it back in next year, she said. “That way, you can put all of your energy into the things you love the most, and actually enjoy them along the way.”
Develop new traditions as a family.
Pick traditions that are unique to you as a couple or family, if you have kids, Thorn said. “Having traditions that are truly your own can bring you closer together as a couple, and help bring new meaning to the holiday season.”
Figure out money issues.
Money is a big issue for many couples. And it can become especially prominent during the holidays. Thorn suggested talking early about what you’re planning on buying. For instance, you might spend money on each other, your loved ones, decorations and holiday shows. Set a budget together, and stick to it, she said.
If possible, try to plan early enough so you can save up. For instance, one couple Thorn knows used to get really stressed about money and argue about it throughout the holidays. They decided to start a “holiday savings account.” They put money into the account every month for a year. By the time the holidays arrive, money isn’t an issue for them, she said.
“If unexpected expenses come up, talk with each other about how to manage it.”
Don’t make major decisions.
“Do your best to avoid making major transitions or changes to your life during the holiday season,” Thorn said. Whether they’re negative or positive – such as buying a new home or separating – these decisions only multiply your stress. They also put a damper on future holidays, Thorn said. “For example, if a couple decides to separate, it adds additional pain to forever have that memory tied to the holiday season.”
The holidays can be a stressful time. But by planning ahead, anticipating solutions to potential stressors and talking to your partner, you can enjoy the holidays — on your own terms together.