Christmas time can be a stressful time for couples. Making joint plans for surviving Christmas ahead of time may help you fill this supposedly joyful season with maximum love and minimum heartache. Joint plans help you manage holiday season stress as a team.
The silly season is here, and if you feel tension increasing between you and your partner, you’re not alone.
A Relationships Australia survey of 1900 people found that couples face high levels of stress over the Christmas period, which can lead to increased arguments and relationship break-ups.
One third of respondents surveyed indicated their relationships were ‘negatively affected’ during the holiday season due to work/life balance and high financial stress.
A recent study from the University of Washington also showed divorces peak after significant holiday periods, such as Christmas or the summer break. An analysis of 10,000 Facebook statuses also showed break-ups at an all-time high directly before or after Christmas.
Christmas time holds a mirror up to couples
Elisabeth Shaw, clinical director for Relationship Australia NSW, says Christmas can heighten the feeling of alienation and add pressure to an already strained relationship.
“Christmas time holds a mirror up to couples,” Shaw tells SBS.
“Rather than saying, ‘it’s been a tough time, let’s just have a nice time together,’ couples may think, ‘I don’t think I can face it because of everything we have been through together’.”
But despite the increase in pressure couples face, she says there are some practical ways to get through the period. Making joint plans ahead of time for surviving Christmas and working as a team will help a lot.
If Christmas makes you miserable, you need a reality check
Our consumerist culture tells us that if we don’t have the perfect gifts, the happiest Hallmark moments and the most loving and sane family, we fail at Christmas and life. Instead of consumerism, surviving Christmas can involve a shift in focus. Prioritize the connection between you as a couple.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Relationship coach and author Cathryn Mora says couples should lower their expectations around the perfect Christmas and instead focus on spending quality time together. Focus on giving non-material gifts called “love values” each day to a partner. A love value can be something simple like a hug or kiss, a verbal appreciation, a shoulder rub, or spending quality time together.
“People focus too much on the material possessions. ‘Love values’ are the things that will help sustain your relationship more than a pair of socks or perfume,” Mora tells SBS. Surviving Christmas focuses on connection not consumption.
Shaw says couples should set realistic goals for Christmas; “transfer your high expectations into acts of small kindness. Ask each other, ‘what are the small things we can do to make this a lovely time? This could be as simple as being nice to each other or spending time together watching a movie’.” Here are some more holiday season relationship tips.
Do this free Five Love Languages online quiz and learn how to give to your partner in their love language, not yours.
Discuss money early
One of the biggest stresses around the holiday season is financial pressure and spending big on presents. According to a survey by Society One Australians are forecast to spend $8.8 billion on presents; half of which will be on credit or store cards and take more than three months to repay. This surely is not a good plan for surviving Christmas!
Shaw says early communication is key to avoiding financial stress. “One partner might have a relaxed attitude to spending. Talk about what Christmas means to you before you go shopping and discuss what you need and want. Nobody wants to be a Scrooge but you don’t want to over give either.”
Mora advises that parents also bring kids into the conversation and talk about what is important for your family: “It’s about managing expectations of your family want and what you can afford.”
“Everything doesn’t need to be bigger and better and more perfect. I have a friend who has a two present limit for her kids, one small and one medium and you know what, children can get excited about the little things.”
Put your relationship first
Deciding where to spend Christmas and with which family is a common argument, especially adding far-flung locations and conflicting family members to the mix. Here are some tips for how to bring up sensitive issues.
There is no iron-cast rule that says you have to have Christmas with family on December 25. One solution for surviving Christmas is to not go to either family on Christmas day. Instead arrange to go on Boxing Day or Christmas Eve.
“I know a local family here, who are just going to the beach and eating prawns together because they just want to have a relaxing day” says Mora.
But if you are having Christmas with the extended family, setting limits and learning to say “no” in a healthy way can make you feel more relaxed and in control.
“It’s about self-control, rather than control over others, because we can’t do much about others,” says Shaw. “As a couple you could agree to leave by three, or decide not to do all the cooking and instead ask others to bring food.
“Just ask each other, ‘how can we protect our relationship and stop things from getting out of hand?’ and ‘what can we do to get through it’?”
To get expert help after the holidays, you may need an experienced relationship counsellor & coach. Call 0421 961 687 or email us to schedule an appointment in 2020. International callers phone +61 421 961 687.
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This post is adapted from Shannon McKeogh.