Written By: Deidre Prewitt, MSMFC, LPCC
The holiday season can be stressful on any relationship, much less one that is already struggling. We have to contend with colder temperatures, less daylight, and making great holiday memories. For some of us, even television commercials serve as a constant reminder that we must create a "perfect" holiday experience. Couples who already feel distant from one another may find it difficult to put effort into their relationship when so many other things are vying for their attention. The holiday season can be a time for connection and renewal; if we are purposeful about putting effort toward improving the relationship at home. I've put together a few suggestions that may help you and your partner get the best out of this holiday season.
Choose Your Partner
With the holiday, many of us experience more time with extended family. This can be a positive experience for some; while many find this increased family togetherness very stressful. Knowing the challenges both you and your partner may face is very important to adequately plan for a positive experience. While planning events, plan for emotional first aid for both of you. If you know that your partner wrestles with depression when their hypercritical mother visits or seems to crumble under the weight of their father's disappointment, talk to your partner about it. Allow them to vent to you without dismissing or minimizing their experience. Allow yourself to see your partner's pain. Ask them what they need to get through this experience. Create an alliance and develop a strategy that will reduce the stress of the interaction.
Questioning why your partner allows this person to push their buttons may not help as much as understanding that this person pushes their buttons. Our families know exactly how to push our buttons because they are the ones who installed them. Many couples struggle with difficult family relationships because they do not realize that their bond is being tested. The "divide and conquer" strategy will succeed in pulling you apart if you are not prepared. Use the stressful events to bring you closer together and solidify the bond between you.
Choose Your Battles
The stress of the holidays can dramatically increase the conflict in an already stressed relationship. Pay attention to one another. If your partner is particularly stressed before an event, this may not be the time to argue about finances. Your concerns are valid and should be addressed; at the appropriate time. If you are already hurting and lonely, arguing about the holiday menu may feel like salt in an open wound. Set aside calm time when you, your partner, and your relationship are in a good space before discussing potentially controversial topics. When you give yourself and your partner time to calm you may find that the topic is not as important as it seemed originally. This may require a cost/benefit analysis. Consider asking yourself a few questions before engaging in this way.
Choose Your Boundaries
Many conflicts over the holidays begin when we do not have adequate boundaries. If one family member seems to want to remind you of your failures and make you feel bad; limit your interactions. If a particular event makes your stomach turn each time you attend, you may want to consider opting out. This is your holiday too. It may not be in your best interest to force yourself to interact with family members that put you or your spouse down. Know what is acceptable behavior to you and resist the urge to succumb to the pressure to make others happy. . If your family is toxic that does not mean that you have to let effect you. You have the option to choose to allow that toxicity into your relationship. Honestly, not having boundaries between your relationship and your family can prove to be detrimental. Many couples struggle because parents, friends, jobs, hobbies, or other things come before their relationship. The holiday season can be a welcome distraction from a struggling relationship but ignoring your challenges may be detrimental. Find time to feed your relationship so that it can emerge stronger when the holidays are over. What you feed will flourish, what you starve will suffer. Choose to create protective boundaries around your relationship to help it to survive.
Holidays can bring on good and bad stress. Having difficult relationships with the ones you love can very easily make this time of year more difficult. Creating a secure base in your relationship can help to make this time a little easier. Your relationship can be the safe place you need to reduce the stress of the season, if you put the effort into it. Its like building a house. Houses can be great shelters from the elements, if it is built. Build your house and protect yourself from the rain. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for more tips to help your relationship survive this holiday season. If you are in or near Columbus, Ohio and need help with your relationship Click Here.