How To Make Sure Your Relationship Survives The Stress Of The Holiday Season

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Spending a lot of time with family, deciding which parties to go to, holiday travel, and spending more than usual on gifts can make the holiday season pretty stressful. Whether you've been together for months or years, the added stress can make the holiday season challenging for relationships. But according to experts, it doesn't have to be. There are ways to make your relationship more resilient during this time of the year.

"The holiday season is often a busy time of year, and this in itself can cause increased tension in relationships," Melissa Pickett, BSW, MSW, relationship counselor at Peak Resilience, tells Bustle. "The season seems to be really about more — more social events, more partaking in alcohol for some, more family gatherings, more spending, be more, do more. This can take a lot of our time and energy, leading to less patience and emotional reserve in many of us."

In addition to that, the holiday season is supposed to be a time for joy and cheer. But if you're feeling drained, stressed, and less than jolly, Pickett says it's easy to take that out on your partner because your relationship is your safe place. Unfortunately that only leads to fights and even more stress.

But you don't have to allow the stress that comes along with the holiday season ruin your relationship. Here are some small ways to make your relationship more resilient this holiday season, according to experts.

1. Have A Pre-Holiday Conversation About Money And Your Priorities

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Having good communication throughout the holidays is essential if you want to keep things harmonious. But it's not a bad idea to have a talk before all the festivities in order to be on the same page, especially when it comes to money. "It's important for couples to set spending limits for gifts and have an open conversation about their expectations for spending during the holidays," Becky Stuempfig, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "Many couples suffer from financial stress during this time and making a plan ahead of time can help minimize financial pressures."

It's also important to talk about your priorities and be on the same page about how you want to spend your time. Do you want to hit every holiday party this season or just stick to the ones with your close friends and family? Planning ahead and having good communication will help you avoid last minute stressors. Stuempfig even suggests putting a date on the calendar to have this conversation. "It can help to make it special by making a 'date' out of it, which is also a way to spend special time alone together before the holiday chaos begins," she says.

2. Take A Moment To Put Yourself In Your Partner's Shoes When You Sense A Fight Coming

Stress has a way of bringing out the worst in people. If stress is causing you and your partner to argue more than usual, Pickett suggests repeating this mantra: "People are doing the best they can." Think about how you change when you're overwhelmed. Chances are, you're not the best version of yourself, but you still try as best as you can to push forward. Now think about your partner in the same way. "How do things change for you when you stop and assume your partner is doing the best they can?" Pickett says. "This doesn't mean they aren't accountable to their actions, but when you choose to believe that your partner is doing the best they can, you'll be able to soften, remain engaged, and use empathy to keep the conversation going."

3. Practice Mindfulness Exercises

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"I believe strongly in mindfulness exercises to help relieve stress and anxiety, and to help us be more aware of our feelings," Jennifer Monninger, licensed clinical social worker who specializes in couples counseling, tells Bustle. The holidays can put you on edge due to changes in routine, having to socialize a lot more, and spending more time with family than usual. There's just no time to relax. Practicing mindfulness can help you breathe, stay in the moment, and release some stress the holiday season is bringing you. According to Monninger, downloading a free app that offers guided meditations can be helpful. Even meditations that are as short as three minutes can help you "complete the stress cycle" so you'll feel more calm and collected.

4. Schedule Time For Sex

When you have a lot going on, it's easy to let sex life get pushed to the side. But according to Monninger, it's important to keep prioritizing intimacy if you want to make your relationship more resilient during the holiday season. "We think about our sexual response in terms of an accelerator and brakes," she says. "For some, stress hits the accelerator. But often we see that it hits our brakes and it can make us less interested in sex and intimacy." In order to prevent that from happening in your relationship, it's important to do things that reduce stress. According to Monninger, getting enough sleep, exercising, laughing together, and making time for yourself can all be really helpful in reducing the overall stress in your relationship. It can also be helpful to schedule in time for sex just so you have that to look forward to during your busy week.

5. Create Small Rituals Of Connection

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The holiday season can be a little chaotic and you might have to make adjustments to your typical routine. If you can't have your weekly date nights due to family being over for a couple of weeks, try creating small rituals of connection. According to Monninger you probably do it already. These are small acts that keep you connected like checking in with each other every evening after work or kissing hello and goodbye. Trying to maintain some level of connection in your daily routine is important in general. But these small rituals can help to keep your relationship intact during stressful times.

6. Keep Realistic Expectations

The holiday season can be a magical time for your relationship. But it's important to allow that magic to happen and not expect it. For instance, if you've been dating someone for a while, you might have expectations for your partner to take things to the next level. But high expectations can quickly lead to disappointment. If you really want to make your relationship more resilient during this season, it's important to keep your expectations in check. As Christine Scott-Hudson, marriage and family therapist and author of 150 Holiday Self-Care Activities, tells Bustle, "Relationship expectations that come from diamond commercials and cheesy television movies will not further your growth. Stay grounded in the relationship you have."

7. Be Honest With Your Partner About How Being Around Your Family Makes You Feel

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Being around family during the holiday season can be tough, especially if your family is toxic. The best way to strengthen your relationship with your partner is to anticipate the challenges and have the tough conversations beforehand. As Jo Tucker, MA. Ed, certified coach and post traumatic growth guide at Jo Tucker Coaching, tells Bustle, "I find the stickiest bit about being around family is the inevitable slip back into your teenage self and the resulting shame spiral of showing your not-so-glittery side to your significant other." But shame can't grow when it's brought to light. So don't be afraid to be vulnerable and have an honest conversation about how being around your family makes you feel. "Have plans in place to help each other out," Tucker says. "Create a space so that when the worst happens, it can be filled with comfort instead of shame."

8. Give Your Partner Some Space And Get Some Alone Time Too

Sometimes creating a stronger bond means giving each other space to breathe and do your own thing. The holiday season will give you plenty of opportunities to spend time together, from shopping for gifts to attending holiday parties. As April Davis, relationship expert and founder of LUMA - Luxury Matchmaking, tells Bustle. "Giving your partner room to breathe will allow them time to relax and collect their thoughts, which will ultimately lead to them being better equipped to deal with the holiday stresses and also be a better partner." It's also healthy to have some time for yourself.

9. Don't Stress Over The Small Things

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During the holiday season, there's a bit of pressure to make things perfect. But aiming for perfection will only lead to a lot of stress and tension. So try as much as you can to let the little things be and don't make small issues a bigger deal than they are. "The holidays are about being together and sharing quality time with your loved ones, take advantage of it and remember everything else is supposed to be a cherry on top," Davis says. When you're not arguing with your partner over making everything exactly as you want it, you can have a good holiday season together that brings you closer together.

10. Tackle The Holiday Season As A Team

"As couples are affected by external relationships including friends and family, it’s important to take a team approach to creating resilience and flexibility in your relationship," Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships, tells Bustle. This means keeping the lines of communication open when it comes to holiday spending and needing time on your own. It means being supportive, kind, and respectful to each other even when you're both stressed out and overwhelmed. It also means creating your own holiday traditions together.

"This gentle, collaborative approach promotes resilience and bonding in the relationship itself," Manly says. "As you unify with your partner to co-create a holiday atmosphere that honors and respect joint and individual needs, the relationship will benefit tremendously."

The holiday season can bring a lot of stress to a relationship. But if you do any of these small things, your relationship can come out of the season a lot stronger.

Experts:

Melissa Pickett, BSW, MSW, relationship counsellor at Peak Resilience

Becky Stuempfig, licensed marriage and family therapist

Jennifer Monninger, licensed clinical social worker who specializes in couples counseling, tells Bustle.

Christine Scott-Hudson, marriage and family therapist, author of 150 Holiday Self-Care Activities

Jo Tucker, MA. Ed, certifed coach and post traumatic growth guide at Jo Tucker Coaching

April Davis, owner and founder of LUMA - Luxury Matchmaking

Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships, tells Bustle.