Navigating a relationship during the holiday season

Navigating a relationship during the holiday season
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The holiday season and your relationship

The Christmas season is often heralded as a time of joy and togetherness. While it can be both, it can also be messy and stressful. Whether it’s family expectations, gift pressure, inclement weather, travel plans, scheduling issues, or something else, these struggles can make it difficult to remember what’s the focus of the season. Needless to say, this stress can easily spill over into your relationships. However, with clear communication and proactive planning, it’s possible to get through the holiday season unscathed — and maybe even end up being closer to your partner. Here are three key principles to keep in mind as you navigate the holidays as a couple.

Maintain a connection

With all the holiday hustle and bustle, the connection to your partner can easily fall by the wayside, which can lead to misunderstandings and other problems. While it takes extra effort, finding the time and space to connect can go a long way in helping your relationship survive the holiday season. Consider the following tips:

  • Share holiday traditions. Many people have their own practices since childhood. These are tender, personal habits that can fill your holiday season with meaning—the vulnerability of showing your partner your rituals and learning about theirs can strengthen your bond. Creating a new tradition together can also unify, center you, and give you something to do as a unit.
  • Respect your differences. For most people, the Christmas season is linked to their cultural and/or religious background, giving it great personal meaning. It’s important to show interest in your partner’s vacation memories and practices, even if they differ from yours. You won’t be on the same page on everything, but you can be outgoing and kind when it comes to the places where you diverge.
  • To spend time together. Consider setting a specific time and/or day to let each other know about your feelings. It’s also a good idea to set aside some date time. Prioritize your connection with your partner and spend time nurturing it, especially if you’re worried about the stress of the holiday season.

manage expectations

One thing that makes the holiday season stressful is the way everyone’s different expectations collide. While you can’t be proactive in dealing with all the hopes and assumptions you both might face during this time, you can work on establishing clear expectations for each other. Below are some ideas that may help you with this:

  • Discuss budgeting and gift giving. Don’t get stressed about things like not knowing how much to spend on each other, where to travel, or who’s hosting. Also, avoid the disappointment, anxiety, and frustration that can come from being on a different gifting page than your partner. Communicate clearly in advance; Set expectations for what you want, how much you will spend on each other, what you will do, and how responsibilities will be shared.
  • Try to keep things in perspective. Keep in mind that if you and your partner experience more conflict than usual during the holidays, it probably says more about the stress of the season than it does about your relationship.
  • Discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider traveling off-peak and visiting family to reduce transmission. Talk about how you can minimize risk on planes, buses, taxis, or other modes of transportation so your gatherings are safer for those who are more vulnerable. Try to build some flexibility into your schedule and recognize that COVID-19 can derail your plans if you are exposed to COVID-19. Check with travel companies about their COVID-19 cancellation policies.

Creating and maintaining boundaries

Boundaries are an often underused tool to limit your fear. Setting boundaries with your partner and family can help you reduce your stress levels and increase your enjoyment of the holiday season. Here are some things to consider:

  • Remember that you don’t have to do everything. It’s okay to limit, miss, or celebrate individually your family gatherings. Family vacations can take a toll on a relationship. It’s okay if you need to set boundaries about how you celebrate with your families. Perhaps you alternate each year whose family you visit, or celebrate your celebrations with just your local partner and friends. In some years, you and your partner may even visit your families separately. Don’t believe the unfair societal pressures that you and your partner have to attend every single family gathering.
  • Be careful with the alcohol. An increase in the use of recreational substances may coincide with the holiday season. Do your best to avoid conflict while either of you is under the influence. Make plans for safe transportation.
  • Set boundaries early. If your family likes to bring up a topic that upsets your partner, talk to them before you meet and ask them not to. Conversely, if your partner enjoys talking about things that you don’t want them to mention to your family, that’s fine. Just tell them beforehand which topics are taboo. Try to plan for specific triggers — maybe there’s a specific family member that’s upsetting you, or maybe someone is notoriously bad at catering to other people’s dietary needs. Whatever it is, try to mitigate those specific triggers if you can. If you can’t do this, talk to your partner and prepare to complete these challenges as a team.

Help your relationship survive the season

While the holiday season can put more strain on your relationship, a clear head and lots of proactive communication will set you up for success. If you’re concerned about your ability to implement these tips, or about something deeper in your relationship, you should consider reaching out to a love mediator. They can help you become more grounded in your situation and give you the information you need to address a specific relationship issue.

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