The Holiday Season – for a lot of us that means spending time with family, lifelong traditions, great food & warm drinks, and of course spreading a lot of joy. But there is oftentimes another side to it, and in this blog we're going to be focusing on couples – how you can navigate the holidays with the least amount of stress & conflict as possible. How can we navigate the holidays so that we aren't always arguing or feeling tense? How can we function as a team and have each other's back instead of feeling like the other person is making things more difficult? Let's dive into what you can do to make them go as smoothly as possible.
Plan and Set Expectations
This is better to do earlier on – talk to each other about your hopes for the holidays. In an ideal world, you'll agree on everything and have the same ideas, but unfortunately that's not usually how it goes. Open up a conversation with each other where you're just trying to learn more about what the other person would like. At the end of this conversation, you will hopefully be able to meld your wants so that you find a mutually beneficial plan. The important part is that you feel like you're working together while talking about this, instead of feeling like you're working against each other.
Do we want to split the holidays between families? Do we want to host? How do we want to spend those days whether that's by ourselves or with others?
You can also talk about more specific details. For example, many couples will have a different idea of what amount of alone time they'll need – one partner needs barely any, whereas the other needs quite a bit more. Talking through these specifics sets the two of you up for success; if I know my partner needs more alone time to recharge, I'll be less likely to get frustrated when they're taking more breaks from being around family. Again, the important part is to remain a team, even if you handle things in different ways.
How much alone time do we need? Does one of us want more active time vs. Rest time and vice versa? Does one partner crave more romance & intimacy during the holidays than the other?
For couples that have children: Make a plan for how you're going to take care/manage your kids. If you're going into the holidays and don't have a plan for working together, you could be setting yourselves up for failure. We all have certain expectations of our partner, and ways that we would like to handle stressful situations that pop up. When things don't happen the way we'd want them to, that can easily create building frustration with each other.
To limit this as much as possible, go over situations with each other and how you would like to handle them. This way you're making your expectations clear and explicit, and getting on the same page before you're even in those moments.
What do we want their temporary routine to be while we're away? When we're at a certain location, will one of us be the primary parent in charge? How do we want to handle setting boundaries for them when we're with family?
Share Hot Button Issues with Each Other
The holidays can be a very fond time to look back on, but for any of us there will be some memories we have that aren't positive. First, share any triggers you might have with your partner – these are often at opposite ends of the spectrum. One partner's trigger will be feeling like the other isn't helping out, while that other partner will have a trigger of feeling like they're being nagged or criticized. The important part Isn't to find out who's right and wrong, but to let each other know & learn more about each other – this way you can try to avoid that dynamic and get on the same page. If I feel like you are helping out this time, you're likely to feel like I'm not on your back and we can have a relaxing time.
I feel triggered when you leave me with your family and don't check in with me, or when you drink so much that I feel like I have to take care of you and the kids.
Then, reflect on what you've struggled with in the past and try to uncover any situations or dynamics that you have during the holidays. These will often go hand-in-hand with triggers, but thinking of past struggles can help us determine what those triggers are. Be careful not to just rehash a previous situation – talk about it with the goal of completely understanding both perspectives.
What made this so tough for us in that moment? What made you upset or frustrated in that moment that I didn't realize? How have we experienced situations differently in the past?
Finally, figure out how you want to handle any difficult moments in the future together. Instead of feeling frustrated and having the rest of the day ruined, share with the other person what you would want to happen when you're feeling frustrated with each other. If there's a trigger, how do you want that to go? What do you need from a conversation to get back on the same page and smooth over those tough feelings? If both of you agree ahead of time that you want to work as a team even when it gets tough, it can make it much easier to have those conversations to repair any disconnect.
A basic mantra you can have during the holiday season is to stay on the same team and be patient with each other. It's much easier said than done when there's a lot of stress involved, but I believe that any couple can benefit from trying to be more intentional. And the cherry on top is that when you're able to do this successfully, it makes the rest of the time a lot more enjoyable because you have a shared plan that you're working towards together. It might take more effort beforehand, but for any couple that seems well worth it. Here's to being there to lean on each other, and I hope you have a Happy Holiday!