Holidays and Relationships

Hidden among mistletoe and holiday cheer lies the stress of family dynamics, travel hassles, and extra spending that can test even the healthiest relationships. While couples benefit from regularly working on their relationship, strengthening communication, reciprocal support, and intimacy, and expressing their love, extra care during holiday seasons encapsulates the spirit of the season and helps the relationship be a gift that keeps on giving.

A couple is composed of two individuals walking together. Individuals are not, as the common adage goes, mere puzzle pieces who must find their perfect match; rather, they are master crafters, constantly whittling and working on themselves.

When couples can agree on beliefs, values, and norm of communication, harmony is more than achievable. Consequently, the relationship becomes a source of comfort and peace, a safe haven in the chaos of life.

During holidays or otherwise, if the safe haven starts to seem a little too similar to the chaos, here are four simple ways to improve your relationship amid and after the festivities.

Touch base and convey communication channels are open

It’s easy to be swept up in the excitement of freshly baked cookies or visits from relatives. Even during the rest of the year, we only have so much energy to give, often distributed between work, children and other considerations.

Combat distractions by taking a moment to touch base before big events. Though the novelty of holiday activities and catching up with loved ones may take center stage, acknowledging and taking a moment to connect with your partner is so important to convey that they are not forgotten or taken for granted. Discuss potential feelings of jealousy, neglect, or isolation and how to best support your partner through them. Individuality necessitates individualized plans of support, which can range from a simple hug to inclusion in conversations. While it is not your responsibility to maintain your partner’s mental wellbeing, being in a relationship means actively participating in and nourishing each other’s emotional landscapes.

Listen with your ears, not your mouth

Sparklers are not the only sparks that can fly when the longer to-do, shopping, and visiting lists come into play during the holidays. Add in potential differences in communication and family related trauma, and you have the perfect recipe for tension, dissatisfaction, and the end of the festivities. After all, two people constantly interrupting each other in an attempt to gain the upper hand is nothing more than a battle with no winners.

Fighting the innate urge to cut in and defend oneself in the face of disagreement takes awareness and courage. Remember that you and your partner are advocating for different paths towards the same goal of mutual understanding and connection. Take a moment to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, to truly consider their approach to the issue at hand. Choosing to engage your ears rather than your mouth creates a space conducive to open dialogue and collaboration, signaling to your partner that their opinions, and by extension, they themselves, are valued.

Next time you find yourself forming a response to a point your partner has yet to finish speaking, stop and question the ‘why’ behind your defensiveness. Is there a particular topic or manner of speech that you are triggered by? Do specific environments shorten your fuse? These points of contention indicate where you can direct your attention and improvement efforts at.

No matter the occasion, making your partner feel heard by devoting your full attention to their points, listening with the intention of finding a middle ground, and allowing them to complete their thought before responding with kindness and compassion is not a concession. It is a signal of your commitment to your partner and future as a unit.

Flexibility is the Name of the Game

Whether raiding the store for last minute gifts or modifying generations long recipes to accommodate the ingredients in your pantry, flexibility is key to maintaining holiday cheer.

Rather than react with anger or negativity when your partner inevitably expresses a difference in spending or vacation desires, transform the season’s lows to highs by maintaining a relaxed, diplomatic mindset. Meet differences that may arise with respect by approaching and talking through the situation without judgment, blame, or resentment, advocating what you need and having space for what your partner needs. This does not mean repressing your authentic self, but rather expressing yourself with tact and compassion, as well as considering your partner’s viewpoint.

Gift with your actions and heart

Letting your heart and actions speak your partner’s love language involves a purposeful effort to understand their unique preferences.

Express words of affirmation by acknowledging your partner’s contributions during celebrations, prioritize quality time by planning a distraction free weekend getaway if possible, or if acts of service are more up their alley, volunteer to bear the brunt of holiday preparation or the week’s chores.

Honoring your partner’s love language creates an atmosphere where love is not only spoken but lived.

No matter the time of year, you have the power to change your relationship for the better all on your own.

Reach out to a couple’s therapist for support if you feel a trained perspective and guidance are needed.