The holidays are a stressful time, no doubt. We write a piece every year about the impact of the holidays on relationships, and we still have yet to run out of discussion points on the topic. This year, we’re unpacking 7 common relationship problems during the holidays and offering a few tips to navigate this stressful time.
One of the most common relationship problems during the holidays is money. Money can create issues any time of the year, but the holidays can bring out the ugly in finances. Whether you’re living comfortably and have the budget for a big spend for the holidays, or you’re trying to figure out which bills will have to be late so you can afford gifts for the kids this year, budgeting and finances can wreak havoc on relationships when partners are not in agreement about spending.
If it seems you both set the budget every year, but then either or both of you have a hard time sticking to it, try to determine why finances are particularly difficult this time of year, then address the issue during the year before the holidays come around again.
2. Where/With Whom You’ll Spend the Holidays
Are you going to the in-laws again this year? Your family’s cabin? Staying in? Taking an intimate trip with just your partner? In a culture that doesn’t offer a lot of time away from work, we are understandably protective of how we’d like to use our time, including with whom we share it. If you’re wanting to spend the holidays lounging around the house, but your partner wants to take a road trip to see his cousin’s family, we can see the potential for frustration and disappointment.
Figuring out how and with whom you will spend this time of year can definitely create some relationship problems during the holidays. If it seems you can never agree about where and with whom to spend the holidays, remember it’s ok to do holidays separately if that makes you and your partner happier.
Parties, parties, and more parties. Spiked Eggnog, Hot Toddies, beer, wine, shots; the holiday alcohol flows from bottles like a river. With the cold, dark days, the merry (or not so merry) gatherings, and the free flow of alcohol, it’s easy to overindulge during this time of year.
If history shows that alcohol stirs up more tension between you and your partner during the holidays, discuss the topic beforehand and come up with some ways to manage this year. Maybe you both agree to a maximum number of drinks, take turns being designated driver so you don’t get stuck somewhere, or decide to forego drinking altogether. If you have a partner who overindulges and doesn’t have a plan to keep it under wraps this year, make a plan for how you will manage. Remember, it’s perfectly reasonable to decline an invitation, even if it’s your partner who invited you. Sure, there needs to be some give and take in a relationship, but you never have to do anything that makes you feel unsafe, and if the drinking at holiday gatherings makes you uncomfortable, you do not need to take part in it.
Lack of Personal Space
With the holiday usually comes some time off from obligations outside the home. Breaks from work often have both partners home together, and if there are kids, the breaks from school and work mean a pretty full house and lots of time in close proximity.
If you or your partner enjoy alone time, be sure to communicate your needs for the upcoming break. More time together is great, and partners taking some space for themselves is also great. Work with your partner to come up with some scheduled activities to do together, and some to do alone. If self-care includes solitude, you can honor the need for that, even during the holiday season.
The holidays can come with so many expectations. Whether we’re attempting to recreate the magical holidays of our childhood, host the perfect party, relax and enjoy a break from doing, or anything else we feel pressured to do because it’s the holidays, expectations can set us up for frustration, anxiety, and disappointment. Partners can check in with each other before the holidays to discuss expectations and what to focus on jointly as a couple, and come up with a plan to meet each other in the middle.
Inflexibility with Traditions
As humans, traditions are typically very important to us. It’s one of the ways we create meaning and connect with others. Sometimes, however, traditions can be taken on without question. Maybe you do certain things during the holidays because that’s what your family always did, or it was important your parents, grandparents, or other significant people in your life.
If these traditions bring you and your partner joy, then, by all means, continue them as long as they make you happy. But if you find that traditions are something you have to do, or if you’ve never really even questioned why you carry them on, it’s okay to take a step back and determine how they currently fit into your life. If you don’t enjoy them, or if you find it’s creating issues between you and your partner, it’s okay to scale back, eliminate, or adjust, any of the traditions you carry forward.
As if the added pressure from the holidays to be, see, do, the struggle this time of year is confounded by the coinciding time and weather changes. Even if we agreed with our partner about every facet of the holiday season, the cold, shorter days can do a number on our mental health and wellness. Many people experience a drop in energy and a dip in mood as summer sinks into autumn and winter, and for some, this time of year can bring with it an episode of depression. Be gentle with yourself and your partner – a fussy mood about upcoming activities might not be about the activities themselves, but rather the body’s reaction to this time of year. Work with your partner to create a safe space to explore any reactions either of you are having to the holiday season.
If you notice an increase in relationship problems during the holidays, you’re not alone. Added pressures, expectations, and changes in the weather could all be contributing to relationship problems during the holiday season. If you’re seeing a pattern of issues crop up every year, a relationship coach can help. Please reach out – you don’t have to navigate this alone.