The holiday season is full of chances to eat delicious side dishes and watch Hallmark Christmas movies, but it can also be hard on relationships, especially if you and your S.O. are at a commitment crossroads. Whether you’re begging your partner to put a ring on it this December or simply nervous that your family will have intense questions about your future over Thanksgiving weekend, this time of year can turn up the heat on plenty of big conversations between you and bae.
Lauren Freier, a licensed clinical professional counselor based in Chicago, agrees that this can be an extra stressful time for couples, especially when it comes to partners who are ready for different levels of commitment. “This often flares up during the holidays, because holidays serve as tangible benchmarks to measure growth and progress, much like a birthday,” she says. “During these times, people assess whether where they are is where they want to be.”
These bigger problems are often disguised by arguments about holiday travel and family time, which can lead to less cheer and more tears. Keep reading for 10 tips on how to navigate the upcoming holidays if you and your S.O. are feeling the commitment pressure.
1. Communicate clearly about plans and travel. “Navigating holiday plans can definitely feel more challenging when there is relationship strain about commitment, so take things one step at a time,” Freier says. Minimize the additional stress of your joint travel schedule by allowing plenty of time to openly discuss which one of you will be going where and when. In order to make the whole experience feel more balanced, Freier suggests thinking about “the holidays” as a longer season instead of as a series of individual occasions.
2. Check in with yourself first. Before you become convinced that you need a commitment from your significant other by the end of the calendar year (OR ELSE!), ask yourself some questions about what you really want. Drown out the distractions of the upcoming holidays, and think about key issues like: What do commitment and trust mean to you? What is your relationship vision? How are your needs being met?
3. Talk about the tough questions one-on-one. If you’re feeling antsy about facing your family when you and your S.O. haven’t taken the next step toward commitment, make sure you and bae engage in some serious heart-to-hearts before you set off on holiday travels. Make sure you cover tense topics before anyone else gets involved. “You don’t want to learn about your partner’s thoughts on how ‘serious’ you two are through an indirect conversation with their mother,” Freier says.
4. It’s okay not to know. You don’t need to have it all figured out just because the holidays are around the corner and you’re anticipating questions from your loved ones about your future. If all of those serious heart-to-hearts you’ve had with your partner bring you to a place of “mutual not knowing,” that’s okay! Maybe you’re not getting all of the answers you want, but at least you’re opening up communication and getting closer to being on the same page. Freier tells us that this is especially important as you step into a “potential interrogation zone” back home.
5. Focus on what’s really important. Although the holiday season might force you and your significant other to check in about some pretty major issues, don’t forget that your differences don’t doom you for a breakup. Even if you aren’t totally on the same page about when it’s time to commit, you still have plenty of things in common! Think about all of the values and goals you do share — and don’t forget about that Thanksgiving dessert or tree ornament you both love.
6. Throw deadlines out the window. “The holidays fast approaching can create this sort of deadline and false sense of urgency to have the entire course of your relationship figured out in time to present it to your families,” Freier says. She encourages couples to forget timetables and enjoy being on their own path.
7. Tune out social media. As soon as the holiday decorations go up, it can feel like Instagram becomes a constant feed of engagement rings and proposal pictures. Freier encourages people to make sure that they aren’t allowing themselves to fall into a comparison trap while they scroll through all those super cute pics. If you can’t help but compare and know that you’ll only get upset, consider putting yourself on a social media hiatus this holiday season.
8. Set boundaries with your family. Your family loves you and wants you to be happy, but they might offer unsolicited opinions or ask a few too many questions about your relationship — especially if they love your S.O. and want to see them commit too! Before family time begins, make sure you understand what conversations might push you over the edge, (like your great aunt talking about your fertility clock) and be prepared to answer them calmly — or ask to change the subject.
9. Give up the blame game. If you do decide to engage in conversation with your family about you and your S.O.’s plans to commit (or not), resist the urge to point fingers at your partner. Own your part in the collective decisions, and focus on statements that start with “I.”
10. Call for an adult time-out. Family dynamics can get pretty overwhelming, especially during high-stress holiday gatherings. Don’t be afraid to step out of the line of fire, and take some time for yourself away from the difficult conversations. Now would be the perfect time to try some relaxing breathing techniques or pampering self-care.
Are you and your S.O. feeling the pressure this holiday season? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)