Even the healthiest relationships can have rough patches, especially when stressful events or life moments come up. And that’s especially true at the end of the year thanks to holiday stress and Christmas being one of the most anxiety-inducing times of the year for lots of people. Even if you communicate well with your partner or try your best to see eye-to-eye daily, there’s just something about Christmas and the holiday season that can bring up more intense feelings and reactions between couples.
But why does that happen? What’s the biggest reason that relationships can become tense during the holidays? With the help of relationship and marriage coach, Dr. Jacquie Del Rosario, we have those answers along with what to do in times of trouble with your partner. Don’t throw in the Christmas towel just yet! You can still plan on smooching your S.O. under the mistletoe this Christmas.
What Is the Biggest Challenge for Couples During the Holidays?
Christmas can be a sore spot for many people—not just in regards to relationships. Holidays bring big stress, that’s a no-brainer. But big family holidays like Christmas can also be a tough time for people who may not have a great relationship with their family. On the other hand, if Christmas is a big highlight for you and your family, it can also be hard to deviate from tradition to include new people—like partners.
And that’s where the biggest challenge for couples during the holidays comes from, Dr. Del Rosario shares.
“The biggest challenge that creates tension for couples during the holidays is trying to balance family obligations and manage expectations,” Dr. Del Rosario tells Parade. “During the holidays, couples try to retain family traditions, and most times, want their partner to assimilate to their familial traditions as opposed to creating their own.”
Families can make Christmas so much more stressful. Between splitting time up between different sides of the family to adding in a new person who didn’t grow up with the same traditions (and potentially the same beliefs), outside perspectives from the family can put a real strain on relationships. And for partners that are close with their family and their holiday traditions, that can be hard to compromise.
“While it is important to honor the traditions of your family, you are creating a life with your partner and important to create traditions, experiences and memories with them,” Dr. Del Rosario notes.
What To Do Instead of Feeding Into Tension With Your Partner During the Holidays
Having a tough time compromising on Christmas traditions is a major stressor, but it’s of course not the only one. But whether you’re just overly stressed and more prone to arguments at this time of year or you have a partner who has a very difficult time with the holidays, there are things you can do to minimize how much holiday stress impacts your relationship.
Dr. Del Rosario, who’s known as America’s Marriage Coach and who has appeared on TV—including an episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta—shares some tools you can use if you feel like your relationship is strained this holiday season.
Set Boundaries With Family
When it comes to family, as we said, they can make things messy or just tougher, in general. Your relationship is between you and your partner; it doesn’t include your mother or grandfather’s opinions. But even though other people don’t know the ins and outs of your intimate relationship, that won’t stop them from trying to influence it.
There’s also the issue of family members putting their two cents where it isn’t needed or where it doesn’t belong. And you can bet that inappropriate uncle is going to start some antics this year too.
So whether it’s inappropriate comments or topics brought up by family members, or there’s someone who wants to criticize how you and your partner are doing Christmas, make sure to set up clear boundaries with them and stick to them.
“When couples are confronted with tough topics by others, the couple can use phrases such as ‘That’s a topic we choose not to discuss’ or ‘I’m not comfortable discussing this topic, thank you for respecting that,’” Dr. Del Rosario says.
Be Empathetic and De-Escalate With Understanding Words
Unfortunately, though, there might be times when the stress and tension between you and your S.O. becomes too much and bubbles into an argument or fight. Dr. Del Rosario suggests that when this happens, try to remember to be empathetic toward your partner and find phrases to calm the situation down.
“In tense moments with your partner, it’s helpful to use phrases that de-escalate the situation, such as ‘I understand this is important to you, let’s discuss this calmly,’ or ‘I feel overwhelmed right now, can we take a moment and revisit this,’” she says.
And don’t just offer empty promises of coming back to the argument or discussion, once you’ve both had time to simmer down a bit and have clearer heads.
“And be sure to put a specific time or date at which you will broach the topic again,” Dr. Del Rosario says. “Actions like taking a brief time-out or showing physical affection (if appropriate) can also help reduce tension.”
Show Your Partner They Matter
Again, just showing your partner that you care and that their feelings matter to you can go a long way.
“Mindfulness and empathy are powerful tools to use when tensions or emotions rise,” the marriage and relationship expert tells Parade. “Being present in the moment and trying to understand your partner’s perspective can genuinely ease tension.”
Dr. Del Rosario says that “a genuine attentive ear to listen” is much better than arguing or rebutting them right off the bat. She also suggests setting up “holiday-specific rituals” during this stressful time to create a safe space for both people in the relationship to make positive memories together.
How To Deal With Outside Stressors During the Holidays
We’ve told you about the biggest challenge couples face within their relationship and mentioned that, sometimes, family can cause some drama and tension. But there are also instances where outside stressors cause tension within a couple, which are—unfortunately—out of their control.
This can include religion, differences of opinion with people not in the relationship, sexual orientation (and how it’s perceived and accepted/not accepted by family) and more. These are things that you aren’t bringing into your relationship, but they can cause issues nonetheless. And Dr. Del Rosario says that staying strong together during these moments is vital.
“When it comes to dealing with outside stressors, couples should strive to present a united front when confronted or bombarded by others,” she says. “The couple should privately discuss their concerns and the boundaries they will establish with family or friends. This approach helps in maintaining mutual respect and understanding during stressful times.”
Talking about potential, outside issues beforehand and knowing each other’s boundaries is a must. Maybe even create a “safe word” or quick escape scenario so that you know when one (or both) of you need to regroup. Figuring this out beforehand also helps stay united in the moment, which might help in not creating more issues.
“The couple should also strive to prioritize togetherness,” says Dr. Del Rosario, who holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, a Master’s and Doctorate in Education. “Oftentimes, family and friends have their expectations of what the couple should or should not be doing, but the couple should focus on their own expectations and doing the things that make one another happy.”
‘Stay Together’ Is a Major Key Concept When Battling Stress and Tension as a Couple During the Holidays
In the long run, staying together and being there for (and with) each other is the key to battling stressful situations during the holiday season.
Dr. Del Rosario, an educator, author, advocate and counselor, says that focusing on spending quality time together through the hustle and bustle of Christmas can really make a positive impact overall.
“Whether it’s a simple activity like watching a favorite movie or something as intricate as decorating the tree, the emphasis should be on shared experiences and intimate connections,” she says. “Also, openly acknowledging and appreciating each other’s efforts during this busy season can reinforce your bond.”
Along with spending time together, make time to have consistent conversations and check-ins during the holidays. This will help keep your thumb on the pulse of your relationship and know where your partner stands, emotionally and mentally.
“These don’t have to be lengthy discussions but should be frequent enough to ensure both partners feel heard and valued,” Dr. Del Rosario explains. She also notes that practicing gratitude for one another is a major plus and very helpful. “Regularly acknowledging what you appreciate about each other can create a positive environment and strengthen your connection.”
Outside of just figuring out your Christmas gift list and trying to find the perfect thing to bring to the family holiday party, the holidays can bring quite a lot of stress to your relationship. So, knowing how to combat it and help your relationship in these situations is key to a smooth (or smoother) Christmas.
“Remember, the holiday season, despite its stressors, is also a time to celebrate love and togetherness,” Dr, Del Rosario says. “Keep the lines of communication open, practice empathy, and don’t hesitate to create the traditions that resonate with your relationship’s unique dynamic. Ultimately, it’s about creating joyous memories together amidst all the chaos”
Dr. Jacquie Del Rosario, relationship and marriage coach, has a Doctorate in Education with an emphasis on conflict resolution and curriculum development. She says this provided her “a strong foundational understanding on how conflicts arise and the skill to be able to identify the root causes, especially those not explicitly expressed.” Her experience in curriculum development also gave her tools to help couples overcome tough situations.
Next up, here are 50 relationship goals to help you grow closer as a couple with your S.O.