How the Holidays Can Create Stress for Couples and Relationships
The holiday season is supposed to be a time of unbridled happiness, festivities, joy, and love. But how does it turn out to be one of the most stressful times for couples?
If you are in a romantic relationship, you must have experienced holiday stress at some point. It can be difficult to pinpoint where it comes from or why it is such a pertinent problem, especially for couples. Lets look at a couple common problems that are usually the cause of holiday stress for couples.
Unrealistic holiday expectations
The holiday season looks much different in movies than in real life. Movies and books show us how holidays are a time to catch up with friends, travel to our families, enjoy romantic moments with our partners, and have a great time overall. But does the world miraculously change during the holidays? Absolutely not.
You still have your daily responsibilities, even if it is Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years. The struggles and tasks of everyday life do not disappear during the holiday season, yet we tend to add more and more duties and responsibilities on our plate that ultimately lead to unrealistic expectations and more stress. This creates a disconnect between what we perceive the holidays to be and what they actually are. Stress and discontent follow as a result, and it invariably spills over to how we behave with our partners.
Acceptance, planning, and communication are the best solutions to overcome this disconnect. First, you must accept that the holidays are not as magical as they are portrayed to be. You still must go through the daily grind and do stagnant undesirable tasks.
Fortunately, planning your tasks can allow you to relax and enjoy yourself with your partner, friends, and family. Get the hardest (or most boring) tasks done in the morning, and you can have the rest of the day to yourself. In addition, couples can share responsibilities to get through these tasks even faster.
Communication is probably the biggest recommendation. This includes communicating the plans surrounding all holiday events and/or expectations as well as communicating areas where you may need more attention or help with. For example, communicate with your partner the level of stress of anxiety you may have when hosting a family gathering so you will need your partner to put even more attention into helping clean up or entertain while guests are present. Without communicating these needs, your partner will likely not meet them and will lead you to feeling disappointed in something he/she never knew was even an expectation.
Social pressure and anxiety
You are “supposed” to have a blast on around the holidays. You are also “supposed” to have a grand Christmas party with you or your partner's family. But what about times when these things are not possible? Or when you simply don't want to be around so many people? Here again, there's a disconnect between what you want and what you are expected to do. This can take an ugly shape when you and your partner have different expectations. Another area regarding social pressure and anxiety is commonly referred to as “the judgement from other”. This includes couples feeling as though they are not living up to the family’s expectations of their life and the holiday time is the perfect time for parents/in-laws to “catch up” on all the news from the year. How is your career going? What are the kids involved in? Why hasn’t the home projects been completed yet? Any luck on that promotion you talked about? At times, the simply catch up can leave couples feeling inadequate about themselves or even shameful that they didn’t accomplish all they desired throughout the year and are now being reminded of unmet goals.
Communicate often and clearly what you need to help feel supported and connected. Talk to your partner well before the holiday season and decide what you are going to do and what you need from each other. If you want to spend a quieter New Year's Eve or Christmas, tell your partner about it and plan accordingly. Spend the holidays in a way you both enjoy and not necessarily in a way that fits the norm.
Giving gifts is a loving and caring gesture, especially during the holidays. However, selecting and buying gifts can be stressful for couples. This is more common among couples who have very different tastes and preferences. It can often be helpful to make a “wish list” in advance and share it with loved ones. This will likely reduce anxiety about giving buying and gift giving if your loved ones have an idea of what you need/want rather than feeling pressure to buy a gift last minute, especially for those picky gifters.
No personal time
Couples often don't get the time to be intimate during the holiday season for obvious reasons. There's always something to do or somewhere to go. The lack of intimacy creates further stress/disconnection among couples and removes the romanticism of the holiday season.
The easiest solution to this problem is to be consciously aware of making time with your partner as a priority. Intimacy can be in the form of kind loving affirmations, touch, kiss, hugs, etc. It is a necessity to feel needed and desired by your partner, not only during the holiday season.
The holiday season can bring a lot of stressors into any relationship if it is not ready for it. With acceptance, planning and communication you will likely feel more prepared heading into this holiday season and ready to experience all the joys the magical season has to offer together.
Why Couples Counseling is Important
While relationships are fulfilling and a source of joy, they can also be complex. Recent data shows break-ups and divorce applications registered a sharp spike in the last couple of years. While the pandemic added another layer of complexity to relationships, in many cases, the break-ups are preventable. By making a healthy investment in couples counseling, you can reap a positive, lasting impact on your relationship. Some couples view counseling as they are “failing” at their relationship however, it is actually a wonderful opportunity if you get to participate in couples counseling. It is a indicator of how much your relationship matters to you and the desire you have to keep it growing in a healthy manner.
What is couples counseling?
Couples counseling is a type of therapy that helps couples deal with issues in their relationship. It can be helpful for any type of relationship, whether the couple is married, dating, or just living together. Couples counseling can help you learn how to better communicate with your partner, resolve conflicts, and improve your relationship.
The goals of couples counseling are:
- To resolve conflicts in your relationship and improve communication skills between partners.
- To help each partner feel more comfortable in the relationship.
- To reduce stress and improve your physical health.
- To learn more about yourself and your partner.
- To make decisions about how to handle problems as they arise.
- To share your life with your partner and experience wholeness/joy in daily activities.
Benefits of couples counseling
Couples counseling is a way for couples to talk with a neutral person, who can help them understand each other's point of view and encourage them to discuss their concerns openly and honestly. A therapist can also provide suggestions for resolving conflicts that are important and beneficial to both partners.
Here are the reasons why couples counseling is a healthy investment:
Gain a new perspective: The benefits of couples therapy are manifold. One of the most important is to gain a better understanding of the underlying dynamics between the two people involved. People often bring different perspectives/visions to a relationship based on their past experiences. Without an understanding of these dynamics, it can be difficult to see how each person truly contributes to the relationship.
Couples therapy can help you and your partner understand how you interact with each other. Couples gain a new perspective on how they communicate, their lingering resentments, and if both are fulfilling their role in the relationship.
Learn coping mechanisms: Even the strongest relationships can be strained at times. When traumatic events or certain stressors are involved, these issues can become much larger if not properly managed.
One of the biggest barriers in this pursuit is learning proper coping mechanisms. This, however, does not come naturally for many people.
Couples therapy can improve the way couples handle conflict. By addressing issues early on, the couple can learn healthy coping mechanisms that will be beneficial in the long run. If left untreated, small problems can quickly become larger and more damaging.
Learn to trust each other again: When couples experience trust-breaking incidents, such as infidelity or other major breaks, seeking couples therapy can help them regain trust and re-establish a secure foundation.
Going to therapy allows both parties to work through the issue in a positive and productive way, which can help keep the relationship moving forward.
In addition, couples counseling is beneficial in:
- Resolving conflict and building better communication skills.
- Recognizing strengths and weaknesses in the relationship.
- Understanding how the family of origin influences their relationship.
- Identifying ways to improve your relationship.
- Reducing or eliminating stress, which can affect the couple's health and longevity.
- Developing skills that you can use in your relationships throughout life.
How couples counseling works
You can work with a couple’s therapist individually, or both of you can attend. It is often helpful and recommended to have the therapist meet with each partner separately after the initial meeting to help establish different perspectives and goals. The therapist will usually meet with you on a regular basis, such as once a week, for several months.
Couples counseling is a great tool to build a fulfilling and healthy relationship. This type of therapy can help address the challenges you're facing and help you and your partner establish a secure connection to live the fullest relationship possible.