7 Common Issues Couples Face Around the Holidays — and How to Solve Them

From Festivity Fatigue to setting unreasonable holiday expectations, here are some ways to avoid the seasonal relationship stressors.

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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-corraling, 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 car correctly. Not to mention, you’re trying to get through the 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 seven common issues couples face and the ways in which you can prevent them.

This Must Be the Best. Damn. 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 have spectacular Christmas memories. “The holidays bring unrealistic expectations to make this one the best ever,” says Jon Miles, author of The 10 Ways: A Guide to the 21st Century Relationship and certified hypnotherapist. (You are feeling…very…sleepy.) “These moments should be celebrated daily instead of looking for one big orgasmic moment,” Miles says. “If we can remember the importance of each other in our daily lives, it will far outweigh a holiday.”

Festivity Fatigue

The Grinch is best enjoyed while playing in the background as you wrap presents. Yet you’re bound to find that green grouch sleeping in your bed at some point during the holiday season.

“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. “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 

Even a lump of coal would probably set you back $150 these days. And of course, you’d probably have to find the exact size and style of designer coal lump, and, of course, Amazon would be sold out. “The solution here is to decide spending limits in advance as a couple and stick to them,” Bennett says. “Actually buying the gifts can create tension, too, especially if one partner feels like he or she is doing all of the work,” he adds. The key lies in hashing out who’s buying what and how much mall time you’re each willing to log. To help you out, here’s a guide to help with holiday budgeting. 

Not Setting Reasonable Expectations

Not everyone can be like Santa Claus in that he looks great with a woolly beard and has no trouble ticking everything off his Christmas to-do list. Somehow he makes it to every house on earth, while some of us can hardly find matching reindeer socks. That’s why it’s important to set reasonable expectations with your spouse about everything from parties you’ll attend to how you’ll arrange the presents under the tree, says John Dennis, a Pennsylvania-based licensed professional counselor who specializes in marriage and family counseling. “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.

Where to Spend the Holiday

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.” Whatever you decide, feel at liberty to stick to it, he suggests. 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.

Forgetting to Do Normal Couple Things

You know, like talking about stuff other than how many shrimp will be needed for the New Year’s Eve cocktail party. “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

Listen, 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.”

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