Making the most out of the most wonderful time of the year can be taxing. There’s the gift buying, the travel plan-making, the kid-corralling, the listening to “Jingle Bells” for the 1,000th time while in line buying wrapping paper behind some old woman who doesn’t understand how to insert her debit card correctly. Not to mention, you’re trying to get through the Q4 holiday crunch at the office while maintaining unhealthy levels of merriment to ensure that the kids have good holiday memories. The high stress of the holiday season — some of which we create; some of which others create for us — often results in some spousal arguments related to everything from gift budgeting to holiday plan-making. Here are six common issues couples face and the ways in which you can prevent them.
“This Must Be the Best. Holiday. Ever.” Syndrome
Call it Clark Griswold syndrome: the feeling that, this year, you must be the merriest person on the block, in the family, in the world so that your kids can have spectacular Christmas memories that match yours. The impulse is understandable, but it’s not manageable.
If you push the holiday train into overdrive, a lot of stress can in your relationship. More money is spent, weekends are more demanding, and you risk burning yourselves out. If you love the holidays and want to go big, fine. Just be sure that you and your partner are on the same page and that you won’t be in the red emotionally and monetarily come January.
“Ask questions like, what are your fondest holiday memories or traditions as a child? What would your ideal holiday look like this year?” Once you have the groundwork for expectations, you and your partner can find a few that you definitely want to hit — even if one involves kicking back and drinking eggnog while wearing reindeer slippers.
You know what’s often wrapped up under the tree? Stress. The holiday season brings with it choir concerts, trees to find, presents to buy, extended families to endure, and lots of expectations. It can be draining on anyone and has the potential to sour many couples. “Holiday cheer is replaced by stress as people deal with family drama, financial concerns, and general festivity fatigue,” says Jonathan Bennett, a certified counselor and owner of the Ohio-based relationship coaching business The Popular Man.
It’s important in these times to practice self-care (workout, eat right, find a few minutes to sit in peace) and manage expectations. As important is to stay open with your spouse and not lose your cool when everything starts to add up. “The antidote is, in the midst of the chaos, to take a deep breath and look at your spouse with empathy, rather than as your enemy.”
Runaway Gift Spending
The holiday season is when we tend to let go of our better judgment in the name of good cheer. Just don’t let that care-free spirit drastically change your shopping habits or you could wind up starting the new year on poor financial footing.
“The solution here is to decide spending limits in advance as a couple and stick to them,” Bennett says. We’ve laid out some holiday budgeting tips here, some of the main points of which include determining a price cap for every purchase, making a list and sticking to it (i.e. not going AWOL and buying gifts that you just couldn’t resist, not using credit cards, and paying attention to holiday sales.) Such advice will keep you and your partner on the same page and lessen the post-holiday spending hangover.
Another potential gift buying trouble spot: an uneven balance of who does the shopping, “Actually buying the gifts can create tension, especially if one partner feels like he or she is doing all of the work,” Bennett adds. The key to avoiding this lies in hashing out who’s buying what and how much shopping time you’re each willing to log.
Bickering About Where the Holidays Are Spent
Until Silicon Valley disrupts the laws of physics, you can still only be in one place at one time. “The feeling of being pulled in every direction during the holidays can create a lot of stress and lead to fights in relationships,” says Bennett. “Your partner might always go to Uncle Joe’s on Christmas Eve while you prefer to open presents at your mom’s house.” Hash it out together and whatever you decide, stick to it. Translation: Create a unified force. Even if Uncle John gets offended or your mom guilt-trips you for not heading home with the grandkids, don’t back down. The sanity of your family needs to be prioritized.
Forgetting to Be Normal
General relationship maintenance is easy to overlook around the holidays when you’re running from winter bake sales to concerts to whatever else it is you have on your long-as-santa’s-list agenda. But it’s important to stay consistent and carve out time for one another. “Intentionally make a plan for staying connected through the holidays with daily ‘talk time’ and one or two dates per week,” suggests Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist and marriage counselor in Colorado. Basically, you need to treat the holidays as you do work: set boundaries and realize that quality time spent with your spouse trumps deciding what cookies to bake.
Not Ditching the Discord
The holidays are a time for family and friends and warm memories. But the truth of the matter is that not every family functions well enough to require a full holiday visit. Maybe you fight with your brother-in-law. Maybe your wife doesn’t get along with your mother. If these relationships are frayed, sometimes the best option is avoiding the insanity altogether. “While the focus of the season is on love and togetherness, this can be a real problem for people who don’t have warm, wonderful families or good relationships with in-laws,” says Lesli Doares, a relationship coach and author in North Carolina. “Trying to force togetherness under the guise of the season often backfires. No one has to make excuses for someone not being there.”