Maintaining relationships during the holidays

Does your relationship with your partner tend to get more tense and exhausting during the holidays? Do you find yourself often feeling angry, disappointed or impatient with your partner more often this time of year? Would you like to spend less time fighting or annoyed with each other, but you aren’t sure what to do? Intentionally maintaining relationships during the holidays is really important.

Many couples, from those in new relationships to people who have been together for decades, struggle with their relationship during the Christmas holidays. This can be for a number of reasons, such as stress, different traditions, how much effort they should take, spending more time together under sometimes difficult circumstances, setting high expectations of each other and more. Although it isn’t always easy, most of these challenges can stop causing painful conflict if you and your partner communicate with each other. This can take more effort and time than you’re used, but if you and your partner get into fights and hurt each others’ feelings, you’ll likely find the extra effort is worth the rewards.

Although every couple is unique and how they navigate and avoid potential sources of conflict depends on the individuals, these practices can help you and your partner maintain your mental health, a strong and supportive connection, and have a more enjoyable holiday.

1) Managing and discussing expectations

Christmas is a time of high expectations for many people – you may want to impress everyone who expects something from you, make excellent meals and buy exceptional gifts, all while maintaining the appropriate level of holiday cheer. But things like these take time and energy – visiting certain people can be exhausting, cooking is time-consuming, and gift buying can be stressful. Your own high expectations of yourself can make these tasks even more challenging. And if you expect your partner to be just as invested as you and share your goals when they don’t. your different opinions about how much effort to invest can easily lead to conflicts.

Your partner could also be the one who is overly-ambitious and you feel expected to help, even if you think they’re putting more pressure on themselves than necessary.

One or both of you may need to admit that you can’t do everything, or do it all as well as you wish you could. You only have so much time and energy, so choose where you want to spend it. This could be deciding to order catering for a party instead of making everything from scratch or calling distant relatives instead of making a long trip to visit. Choosing not to do something doesn’t mean that it isn’t important, but that you’re being realistic about what you can and can’t comfortably get done and giving yourself permission to respect your limits.

When you don’t put too much pressure on yourself and make the holidays highly stressful, you’re more likely to be calm and less prone to fighting with your partner.

2) Agree on rules

There are many decisions that have to be made during the holidays – how much money to spend on gifts, how long you’ll stay at certain people’s houses visiting, what traditions you’ll observe, etc. If any of the decisions have the potential to cause a fight between you and your partner, you should discuss them and agree on rules. This could be setting a budget, planning escape routes from relatives, or choosing which traditions to celebrate and how in advance. By talking about what each of you is comfortable with, you’re less likely to accidentally upset each other.

There may be times when you agree to break these rules or you realise that you weren’t being practical when you agreed to them and get rid of the rule, but this can be a discussion where you both acknowledge that you told each other you’d do something and now you’re making the shared decision to change your minds.

You may have to do some experimenting and revisit what you decided on, but by making decisions together and not expecting your partner to do everything you want them to – or having this expectation placed on you – how you spend the holidays can be a shared experience where you both get a say in what you do and don’t do.

3) Discuss what you want from each other

Many couples, especially those who have been together for a long time, can accidentally expect their partner to read their minds. They don’t explain what they want, what they’re asking for, or how they want their partner to help. This often leads to partners getting frustrated for their lack of cooperation or disengagement, while the other person doesn’t understand why their partner is upset.

If you want your partner to help you with something or take on certain responsibilities, let them know. It may seem obvious to you that you don’t want to do all the decorating or grocery shopping by yourself, but your partner might not realise this is how you feel. Instead of getting annoyed when you think your partner should be doing more, ask for help. If they aren’t doing things the way you’d like them to, give clearer instructions instead of assuming they’re doing what you think is a bad job on purpose.

Communicating what you want is important all year, but during the holidays when there are different responsibilities and expectations, it’s especially important that you discuss what you would like from your partner. This will help you get the support you want and avoid fights.

4) Be willing to compromise and make sacrifices

Healthy relationships involve partners finding compromises and making sacrifices when they disagree. With so many potential disagreements to have during the holidays, it’s especially important that you’re willing to listen to each other explain what you want or don’t want and why, and accommodate each other as much as possible.

Compromising involves finding out where each of you can be flexible in what you want while still getting enough of what you want to be happy. When what each of you wants is compatible, you may be able to find common ground where you both partially get your own way, such as agreeing to host a dinner but compromising on the guest list.

Sacrifices involve giving some things up to make your partner happy. Be honest about what you’re willing to sacrifice and what is too important to you to compromise on. If you’re going to resent your partner for staying home while you attend a family celebration, explain how you feel and, while taking their feelings into consideration, talk about what you can and can’t do without.

The ability to compromise and a willingness to make sacrifices for each other is always important, but when there are increased expectations placed on both of you, such as during the holidays, it’s especially important that you’re both willing to accommodate each other and are receptive to what you need to do to make your partner happy.

5) Discuss what traditions you want to honour and what they mean to you

Most people have Christmas traditions that are deeply meaningful to them. Part of compromising and making sacrifices so you can both have a good holiday involves doing your best to honour both of your traditions.

When couples share the holidays, there are two sets of traditions to honour. Decorating the tree on the first of December could be a cherished tradition from your childhood, but that doesn’t mean your partner will feel the same way if they didn’t have this tradition. They could also place a high importance on making Christmas cookies but if you grew up buying sweets from the shop, you’re not going to prioritise making time to help them bake unless they ask for your help and explain why this is important to them.

You might think that only new couples need to figure out how to blend their traditions, but this isn’t always the case. If you and your partner never talked about what is important to you and why, you could have been together for years without knowing what traditions your partner wants to celebrate and they don’t know about yours and why they’re important to you. There could even be things you don’t want to do, especially if Christmas brings back difficult memories for one of you.

Rather than assuming your partner understands your traditions and why they’re special, take the time to explain your traditions if they’re causing hurt feelings or tension. Tell your partner what is meaningful to you and why, as well as how their participation – or lack of involvement – makes you feel. When partners don’t explain what’s important to them and why, they’re creating the potential for fights based on an incomplete understanding of what they’re disagreeing about. You could feel like your partner is attacking your closely held beliefs or disrespecting important traditions, but if you never told them this is how you feel, they don’t necessarily see the disagreement the same way. No matter how long you’ve been together, don’t assume your partner knows how you feel.

6) Stay united during family visits

Navigating tense family relationships isn’t a problem all couples have, but for those that do, the holidays and family visits can be very challenging and place strain on their relationship.

If your family tends to act in ways that upset your partner, such as excluding them, hurtfully teasing them, or disrespecting their boundaries, it’s important that you stick up for your partner. As a couple you’re also family. So even if you don’t like the idea of telling your parents to change their behaviour or you’d be more comfortable joining your siblings in teasing, siding with your family against your partner can feel like a betrayal.

The majority of partners expect loyalty from each other, so feeling second to others, even family, can be incredibly hurtful. Its always important to be united with your partner and defend them when you’re in the best position to do so, but the holidays are a time when you’re more likely to be put in these situations.

If your partner’s family hurts you and your partner doesn’t stand up for you, you may need to tell your partner how you feel. If you haven’t explained this before, they might not know how their family affects you or what you would like them to do. Like in other situations, if you haven’t told your partner how you feel and what you would like from them, you shouldn’t assume they know what you’re thinking and feeling.

If family visits tend to lead to fights or tension between your and your partner, you may need to find out if your family’s behaviour is upsetting them and do what you can to reduce these effects. This will strengthen your relationship and bring you closer together.

7) Make time to nurture your friendship and stay connected

No matter what else is going on, couples will feel closer to each other if they take the time to talk. This could be spending a few minutes chatting before bed or finding a private corner to check in with each other at large gatherings. Even a few minutes per day will help you and your partner maintain your connection.

It’s easy to forget that with all the other responsibilities you have and everything else going on, you still need to make time for each other during the holidays. With changed routines, you might not have as much time to spend together as you normally would, but if you make the most of what time you do have and acknowledge how important this is, you and your partner can stay close and still feel connected, even while having a busy Christmas season.

maintaining relationships

Relationships are valuable and can be maintained even during stressful times

While some people love every moment of the Christmas season and love their added responsibilities, not everyone feels this way. For some people the holidays are not only a time of not only stress, but also increased fighting and tension with their partners. There are ways you can preserve your mental health during the holidays as an individual, but if your relationship tends to suffer during this season, you should also consider what you can do to stay close and connected to your partner.

Some of these things will take time you may feel like you don’t have, and finding ways to accommodate your partner may be annoying if this isn’t something you’re used to doing. But investing time in the relationship and making sure you understand each other benefits both of you.

Partnerships can be strained during the holidays, but since your relationship with your partner is likely one of the most meaningful relationships in your life, its important that you make the effort in maintaining relationships to preserve your connection – rather than sacrificing it – so you can have a good relationship during the holidays so you can have a happy and healthy Christmas season.

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