The most wonderful time of the year can also be the most stressful time of the year. Both Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to bring with them increased demands on your time, energy, and money that also increase opportunities for conflict between you and your spouse.
While a certain amount of holiday stress is inevitable, this season doesn’t have to place undue strain on your marriage. Here are 10 ideas to help you and your partner prepare to face holiday stress.
Remember why you’re celebrating.
A lot of holiday stress stems from getting caught up in the commercial aspects and cultural expectations surrounding the season. Much of that can be alleviated by simply taking a step back and focusing on the true purpose of the holidays: Giving thanks, and celebrating the birth of Christ.
Start planning early.
Melissa Divaris Thompson, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York, advises sitting down with your partner before the holidays to discuss what the next few months should look like. Review your schedules to ensure you’re both aware of any upcoming appointments, business trips, or holiday parties, or any holiday events you’d like to attend. Communicate your hopes and expectations for the holidays so you can both get on the same page.
Decide what matters most.
“One of the biggest mistakes couples make during this time is that they over-plan,” says Thompson. “This year, see if you can pick and choose carefully where you spend your money and your energy.” Focusing on what truly matters to the both of you and your family can help you know when it’s time to say no, both to activities and spending. “Packing in less will cause less stress and therefore less disagreements with your partner,” adds Thompson.
Present a united front.
This is important not only with kids, but also with friends and family. “Try your hardest not to throw your partner under the bus saying things like, ‘well he doesn’t want to come to your house’,” advises Thompson. “This will just create a backlash of negative feelings and will make it challenging to enjoy the holiday.”
Be considerate toward your partner.
Ana Aluisy, a Tampa, Florida-based couples therapist and author of “Reinvent Your Relationship: A Therapist’s Insights to Having the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted,” says it’s important to “be mindful of your own or your partner’s stressors.” Maybe you love to splurge at this time of year, but your spouse wants to celebrate more simply. Aluisy advises talking about the things that stress you both out during the holidays. “That way you both know what’s going on and can support each other.” It’s important to support your partner and validate his or her feelings when struggling.
Divide and conquer.
Neither one of you have to do everything, notes Aluisy. Dividing up tasks such as cooking, holiday shopping, preparing for travel or visitors and minding the kids can relieve some of the burden, and remind you both that you’re in this together.
Let your spouse know when you need help.
“Avoid assuming that your partner is going to guess or magically know that you need help,” says Aluisy. While it’s tempting to seethe with resentment when your partner watches football after a holiday dinner, sticking you with the cleanup, it’s more helpful to communicate your needs and desires. “[Your partner] is not a mind reader. Give him or her a chance to be there for you.”
Plan ahead for parties and other social engagements.
Holiday gatherings can be a lot of fun, but they can also be a source of anxiety when you know an unpleasant relative or a bothersome coworker will be there. Aluisy suggests discussing worst-case scenarios for getting stuck in uncomfortable social situations. Perhaps come up with a code word or phrase to let the other know that you need rescuing. Agree ahead of time that you’ll respect each other’s wishes and present a united front.
Make time for each other.
It’s easy to focus so much on the kids or other obligations that you neglect your partner. Adds Thompson, “it’s especially important during this time to spend a little alone time together to combat the fatigue and stress that the holiday season can bring.” Try to schedule time for just the two of you to do something fun together, whether it’s a date night out or watching Christmas movies in your pajamas after the kids go to bed. Even a short coffee date can help you both feel more connected during the holidays, as long as you focus on each other and not on your mile-long to do list.
Remember this is temporary.
“The holiday season has a beginning and an end,” says Aluisy. Remind yourself and your partner of this when things start to feel overwhelming. Slow down and appreciate the things you enjoy about the season, without getting caught up in consumerism. Your family–and your bank account–will thank you in January.