It’s here! The holiday season is upon us, and if you happen to find yourself in a relationship this holiday season then this blog is for you! For most of us, the hope for the holidays is to enjoy plenty of festivities, feasting, and quality time with our loved ones, but in the midst of all that yuletide fun, we can experience some serious holiday burnout. According to a Healthline survey, 44% of the people surveyed reported being stressed during the holidays with 18% indicating that they are very stressed. This holiday stress is compounded by maintaining your regular family life, work responsibilities, and extra curricular activities that still press on. It can be challenging for you and your partner to find the right balance between all the holiday parties, shopping excursions, family drama, etc. So, with the holidays bringing about a unique burst of stress, we often do not realize just how important our partner’s support is throughout this time of year.

How can couples work together to lessen the pressure of the holidays and be a stronger pair heading into the new year? 

Because we don’t want to overload your list, we’ve targeted two impactful tips to help you and your partner through the tougher side of the holidays (and well after). These strategies will give you the opportunity to build long-lasting connections that will have you looking forward to this time of year when it rolls around instead of dreading it. 

Have a Stress-Reducing Conversation

The Stress Reducing Conversation is a concept taken from the pages of Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Not only can this skill be extremely useful to process holiday stress with your partner but it’s also very practical for everyday use. The basic premise is “understanding must precede advice-giving.” A common misstep in couples communication is to bypass exploring why your partner is experiencing distress and jump right into problem-solving mode.

Let’s say for example, that your partner is starting to feel like they are overextending themselves at this point in the season. Holiday events are starting to pile up on the calendar and they need your support on how to relieve the stress. It would be easy to simply tell your partner “well, just respectfully decline.” While this is not bad advice, your partner may need a little more of your time to process what is causing them to feel stressed or anxious. 

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Listen. Allow your partner to give as much detail as needed to explain their point of view.
  2. Show genuine interest. Try to limit distractions when your partner is talking. Put down your phone, close your laptop, make eye contact, etc.
  3. Communicate that you understand. Even if part of you feels their stress levels are unreasonable. Try saying something like, “Yeah, that sounds like a tough one. It makes sense to me why you’re stressed.”
  4. Express that you are there for them. Make sure your partner knows that you are available to support them through the stressor. This might look like reaching and grabbing their hand if they become tearful while processing. Or it could be simply saying, “You’re not alone, I am here to listen and help you through this.” 
  5. Summarize what you are hearing them say. For example, “Wow. It sounds like you have a lot going on and are stressed about finding time for all the different holiday events. I am also hearing that you may be grappling with some negative emotions of possibly hurting your co-workers’ feelings if you decline the invite, is that right?” If they say yes, you can then ask them if they would be open to some feedback or suggestions on what they can do. If not, you can follow up with a question like, “What’s the hardest part about all of this for you?” Or “What do you fear is the worst that can happen?”

The stress-reducing conversation can be useful to talk through a host of holiday stressors such as gift-giving, anxiety around travel, stress related to family members and dynamics, scheduling dilemmas during the holidays, and more. 

Build Your Connection

Now that you know how to talk through some of the more stressful parts of the holidays, let’s explore how you can build the connection. This connection will help you and your partner gain a deeper understanding of each other’s views and create some shared meaning during this season. Creating rituals of connection around the holidays and having a more in-depth grasp of your partner’s sentiments toward this time of year can help cultivate bonding experiences. Here are some conversation starters that will help you gain a little more insight into your partner’s inner-world and mental health as relates to the holidays. 

What are some holiday traditions you would like to bring into our relationship? Are there any new traditions you’d like to start?

  • This is an important question to explore together. You may find you have many similarities in family traditions that you both treasure regarding the holidays. Or you may discover that your partner did not really celebrate any of the common holidays around this time of year. Take time to listen to the differences and be willing to explore new traditions you can start together. 

 What worries you the most about the holidays this year? 

  • When you inquire about your partner’s concerns and worries about the holidays you can better understand how to support them. Maybe they’ve lost a loved-one this year (or many years ago) and the holidays are not the same without them. Or perhaps your partner is working hard to stay sober and is worried about all the holiday parties that may involve alcohol. Whatever the circumstance, be present to hear their concerns and try not to be dismissive. Again, a stress-reducing conversation can work well here. 

What are you looking forward to the most? 

  • This can be a fun one to explore. Your partner may pull on memories from childhood such as favorite holiday movies they like to watch or baked goods they look forward to making at this time of year. Or you may learn that this year, they are really just looking forward to taking time off work and relaxing for a few days. You can learn about what puts a smile on their face and hopefully make room in the schedule to do those things together. 

What did the holidays mean to you growing up and how do you look at them now as an adult?

  • How we experienced the holidays growing up can definitely play a role in our feelings about them today. This is worth delving into as the holidays may be very special to your partner, but they may not hold the same weight to you. This difference in meaning can impact many aspects of the season — budgeting, time taken off work, gift-giving, quality time expectations, etc

How can I best support you this season?

  • Checking in with your partner about how you can support them this holiday season might be music to their ears. This could mean being supportive at family functions where they have traditionally felt uncomfortable, helping them decorate the home to get into the spirit, or respecting when they need time to themselves to recharge their own batteries. Being emotionally available to your partner during this stressful season communicates that you can be trusted and relied upon when things get challenging.

Need some additional help? 

Don’t let the stress of the holiday season get the best of you or your relationship. If you and your partner could benefit from some focused time on how to better your communication through stressful seasons in your lives, then couples therapy may be an option to consider. If you are ready to schedule an appointment and live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started. We offer virtual and in-person sessions.