With all the hustle and bustle getting the best of us at this time of year, the holidays can be a testy time for relationships – established and new.
This is especially true if your relationship is already on shaky ground.
“The expectations couples can have going into the holidays – from how big a gift will make someone feel loved, to how far to travel for family, all wrapped up in how much money will be spent – can create a wild emotional roller coaster,” relationship expert Chantal Heide explains.
“Unfortunately, couples already dealing with difficulties may see their issues magnified during the holidays because the problems surrounding commitment and expenditures can blow up to epic proportions, as every little part becomes scrutinized.”
The level of stress couples experience, whether it’s an established or new relationship, depends largely on how secure the individuals feel within the relationship, Heide says. Even if one person in the partnership feels insecure, then fights will likely develop as stress levels rise.
“Couples going into the holiday season with established rules and expectations can sail through relatively easily,” Heide explains. “It’s when insecurities flare up and expectations aren’t met that feelings can dissolve into more negative tones, creating lingering unhappiness once all is said and done.”
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If you’re in an established relationship, you’ll most likely see yourselves either sharpening your negotiating skills or risk fighting more about common issues like money, kids, family, time and expectations, Heide says.
When it comes to kids, in particular, Heide says emotional spending can have a big impact on how much couples fight over allocation of money during the holidays.
As the list of parties, gatherings and obligations begin to build up, that too can induce stress in the partnership.
Then there’s the issue of expectations. Gift giving, in particular, can create an emotional roller coaster in couples, Heide says. There’s the potential letdown when grand gestures aren’t met with a response that was hoped for. And giving a gift to “make up for” a tumultuous year can sometimes be met with a tepid response if the receiver isn’t anywhere close to having a forgiving heart and forgetful mind, Heide adds.
If you’re in a new relationship and you’re not careful, you and your partner can be torn apart by several obstacles.
According to Heide, expecting too much too soon can spell trouble.
“People in the first few months of a relationship should be focused on finding out if there’s enough compatibility to create a committed relationship, which means those seeking to be counted as someone’s ‘one and only’ before that’s established might be looking for a Christmas nod to feel validated,” she says.
Expecting party invite and gifts when you only started dating a month before, however, can be unrealistic and relationships can implode because of it.
Another issue is if you don’t understanding someone’s love language (how they express loving actions), you’ll misinterpret their act of appreciation, Heide says.
“Seeing how important you are to someone will be evident only if you understand the way this person shows you care,” she says. “And knowing which method your new relationship likes to use … means you won’t overlook the ‘gift’ they’re giving by shovelling your driveway and helping you put up decorations, in lieu of a pricey bauble.”
Lastly, exercising individuality can bring to light insecurities and controlling behaviours, Heide points out. If you feel it’s too early to bring that new person to your office party and going without them causes friction, Heide says you might be ending the relationship before the year is over.
To help you survive the holidays, Heide offers some tips.
First, if money seems to be a common fight around this time of year, try making your anniversary the occasion you celebrate as a couple and keep the Christmas budget for friends and family.
Have a talk early in the year about how you’ll celebrate next Christmas, Heide suggests. Being prepared to set time and money aside well ahead of time means you’ll know exactly what to expect during the holidays, which will reduce stress and give you something to look forward to.
If you’re in a new relationship, don’t set yourself up for disappointment by expecting anything from this new person, Heide warns. Make plans and invite them if you’d like, but keep in mind that it’s too early to start planning how you’ll spend next Christmas together.
Another good thing to do is meditate for 10 minutes a day. This will reduce stress and anxiety, Heide says.
“The holiday season can have a minimal amount of stress when you decide you’re on the same team working together towards common goals instead of hyper-examining every action, seeking what you’ve told yourself equates love and validation,” Heide says. “Simply deciding to help each other through this busy month and being each other’s emotional source of strength can be the best gift of all.”