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dealing with holiday stress

How To Deal with Holiday Stress As A Couple

The holidays are a time for joy and togetherness for many people. They’re a time to enjoy good company, celebrate, rest, and reconnect. That said, we all come to the festive season excited — and anxious — about different things. Understanding these differences can help us comfortably accommodate each other, ensuring a better time for all. 

Of course, no two families are alike. Five unique things can stress five people sitting at the same dinner table. But there are a few common holiday stressors that worry us all, especially couples. Dealing with holiday stress should be a team effort. Most importantly, couples should use the holidays to strengthen their relationships.

Common holiday stressors for couples & families

Just as the holidays affect us individually, these stressors can take on new meaning in the context of a relationship. Whether that’s the relationship with your partner or a family member, it’s always harder to manage interpersonal tension than internal anxiety. 

This isn’t because one is more stressful than the other. Rather, it’s that relationships demand we work together to overcome issues. For most couples, the biggest holiday stressors include:

1. Social and family pressure

The holidays give us a chance to socialize with friends, family, and loved ones we may not see often throughout the year. As fun as that can be, it’s not always easy sailing. Hosting a gathering involves a lot of planning, shopping, and organizing a bunch of people who have their own plans. 

Logistics are tiring at the best of times, but especially when there’s no set routine to work around. Normally, we know people will be busy during the week, so everyone’s more likely to socialize at the same time over the weekend. With no school or work to structure the week, everyone’s plans become more fluid, and aligning them can be tricky. 

Couples also have to answer the question of where to spend the holidays. If they have a standing agreement to alternate every year, what happens when they’re asked to make an exception for a special occasion? What if one partner feels far from home when they give up their traditions to embrace their partner’s? What if a spouse doesn’t get along with their in-laws? 

Our own families aren’t always easy to deal with; a partner’s family is even trickier. If left alone, these social pressures can lead to tense standoffs and awkward conversations, even for otherwise healthy couples. 

2. Financial stress

Gifts, large meals, and quality time are synonymous with the festive season — but they come at a cost. 

Simply traveling home for the holidays can be expensive for couples who live far away, and families with children. Then there’s the exchanging of gifts. How much do you budget in total? How many gifts will be exchanged? Is there time to find and wrap them all during the chaos?

dealing with holiday stress as couples financially
Getting your finances right for the holidays takes a lot of collaboration.

The big family lunch or dinner often forces us to mix finances and family, something most people try to avoid. Will one person have to buy everything or is everyone expected to contribute money for shopping? Who handles the spreadsheet for ingredients, drinks, snacks, decor, and so on? What happens with last-minute guests that haven’t been accounted for?

These same stressors apply to families planning a holiday away together. Getting it right takes a lot of collaboration, and it needs everyone to do their part. 

3. Overwhelming expectations

Finances aren’t the only burden couples may feel obligated to carry. Unfair expectations tend to creep up most when it comes to traditions, obligations, and labor around the house. This is especially true of gendered expectations like organizing events, childcare, and household chores. 

Some cultures expect spouses to perform duties to involve them in family routines. Unfortunately, this can create friction when cultures clash, or when family members use it to alienate new members. Culture shocks are most intense in the initial stages, making this an overwhelming stressor for newlyweds and someone visiting their partner’s home for the first time. 

4. Maintaining your routine

A good routine helps to regulate our moods, meet our goals and plan more comfortably. While the holidays offer a nice break from monotony, they can also disrupt the sequences that benefit us from day to day. 

Routines to boost health, for example, are harder to maintain over the holidays. While some may look forward to eating the best food of the year, others may worry about undoing their progress by indulging. 

Even if a person plans on still exercising, traveling means being away from the gym, which limits their options. Working out in someone else’s home or a new environment adds the stress of doing this outside their comfort zone too. This is particularly an issue with families that lack boundaries and anyone prone to commenting on the lifestyle and habits of others. 

5. Dietary concerns

Depending on the family, dietary concerns can be a cultural, medical, or personal issue for people and their spouses. One’s beliefs might prohibit one from eating something considered normal by everyone else. Even when in-laws are happy to accommodate them, educating others on key details or monitoring for cross-contamination is a lot of work. 

No one wants to hover in the kitchen or openly reject a plate at the table, either. Unfortunately, a willingness to be inclusive is the only way to avoid an uncomfortable situation, and that’s not a guarantee with every family. 

6. Depression and loneliness

If a highlight of the holidays is coming together, then one of the worst parts is feeling disconnected from the people around you. Broken relationships, estrangement, and generational conflict can trigger painful emotions for a person with a traumatic family history. It doesn’t help that they’re reminded of this history every year. 

Depression can rear its head long before the holidays start. Even talking about festive plans is stressful. Someone with strong family bonds may not understand why the idea of going home stresses their partner. Inversely, not feeling understood will only frustrate their partner more. Dealing with this issue takes empathy, communication, and compromise.

Ways in managing these stressors to deal with holiday stress

Now that we’ve identified the most common stressors, dealing with holiday stress as a couple doesn’t look so bad after all. Here’s how you can manage these stressors.

1. Managing social pressure

If you or your partner feel obligated to socialize more than usual, make sure you have plenty of downtime between events. We can’t always control things when interacting with family, but knowing you’ll have time to recharge does offer some comfort. Use this time to do the things you enjoy about the holidays, like reading in a quiet corner or relaxing with a warm drink.

2. Managing financial stress

Managing finances is a team effort. The best way to avoid this stressor is for couples to get on the same page early. Drawing up a budget, planning for holiday costs, and saving should happen before the holiday starts. Liaising with family about contributions is never fun, but it removes the risk of disagreements down the line.

3. Managing family expectations

When it comes to family traditions and routines, your partner is the best resource on what to expect. They may not get to everything, but they can offer insights into how things normally go. If you sense that you may have a problem with the way things are done, this is when couples can negotiate on what’s reasonable, and how to support each other when dealing with family.

dealing with holiday stress as couples
If you sense that your partner may have a problem with your family’s traditions, couples should negotiate on what’s reasonable,

4. Managing your routine

You don’t have to give up your routine over the holidays, especially if it helps you cope with stress. If anything, huge changes to your sleeping, eating, and exercise habits are just as disorienting. The downtime you carve out gives you a chance to keep up with the daily tasks that matter most.

5. Managing dietary concerns

Communicating your dietary needs ahead of time gives loved ones more room to work with them. If you’re dealing with another family member’s needs, don’t forget to check with caterers, designated shoppers, or anyone in charge of bringing a dish.

6. Managing loneliness and depression

As isolating as they are, it’s important to remember that depression and loneliness are normal reactions to the holidays. Recent trauma and unresolved conflict can evoke strong emotions, and it’s okay to feel and express them. You don’t have to fake a positive mood, don’t forget to do the things that bring you joy when you can. After all, the holidays are for everyone to enjoy. It’s just about finding what that means for you as you navigate the season.

How to use the holidays to strengthen your relationship

Spend quality alone time together

When bonding with family, remember to make time for the family you chose. Date nights are great when you need a break from the festivities while connecting with your spouse. Laughter, affection, and emotional intimacy will always lighten stressful moments.

dealing with holiday stress
Spend date nights with your spouse when you need a break from the festivities.

Do the hard things together

When it’s time to roll up your sleeves, sharing the work does two things. One: the burden is lighter when two people carry it. Two: doing the hard things together shows a deep commitment to your partner and the relationship. 

Be proactive with support

Even couples have a hard time asking for help, so being attentive to each other’s needs is vital. If you notice your partner struggling with the holiday season, being proactive with your support offers comfort when it’s needed most. Sometimes, the question can be as simple as, “How can I make the holidays less stressful and more fun for us?” 

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