The holidays are (almost) here, and you can already feel the chaos coming your way in equal measure with all the cheer. Soon, you’ll be running to the store every day after work to track down the perfect gifts for everyone on your list. You’ll be avoiding your credit cards bills entirely and the phone will be ringing off the hook with invitations to dinners and events with loved ones. You’ll be panicking about how to deal with your S.O.’s family drama (not to mention your own family’s quirks). Your to-do list will get longer by the day. And with all this going on, it’s easy to forget that the holiday season should also be a time to celebrate with the one you love the most: your spouse.
In all the chaos of the season, don’t let your marriage fall off the priority list. To help you avoid that fate, check out these six expert tips for keeping your marriage rock solid during the holidays.
1. Talk about expectations ahead of time. Don’t wait until mid-December to sit down with your partner and discuss how the rest of the holiday season will look. Get started early with conversations about the budget for gifts, how much time you’ll be spending with certain family members, how you’ll handle awkward situations as a couple (i.e., the all-too-familiar “when are you having kids?” question), and more. “Make sure you are both on the same page about how to handle family dynamics and plans,” says Kali Rogers, founder of Blush Online Life Coaching. “This will open up more loose time in between [holiday events], and it will absolutely diminish the number of fights or disappointments that usually introduce themselves right at inopportune times.”
2. Get on the same team. No matter how much time you spend discussing expectations, you’re bound to be thrown some curve balls this holiday season. If all else fails, you and your spouse should plan to follow the “same team” rule of thumb. “Sure, holidays are about family, but that can bring about stress and conflict,” says psychotherapist Emma Bennett. “It’s important as a couple to remember that you are on the same team and to back each other up.” If a situation comes up that you’re not prepared for, your default plan should be solidarity with your partner. You can always talk through your real feelings later on, but don’t let the larger family see you sweat.
3. Practice empathy. “Holidays are supposed to be festive, but for many people, cheer is replaced by stress as they deal with family drama, financial concerns, and fatigue,” says counselor Jonathan Bennett. “You and your partner might get stressed and become grumpy, anxious, and argumentative. Look at your spouse with empathy and resist the urge to assume the worst if he or she acts a little like Scrooge.” There’s no need for “Bah, Humbug!” in your marriage! Be a little more empathetic than feels natural or “normal” during this unique time of the year.
4. Create a private tradition. You might be convinced that no one can cook Thanksgiving quite like your mom, or maybe you can’t imagine finding the perfect Christmas tree with anyone other than your sister. Maintaining these traditions with your family of origin is super important, but you and your S.O. will really benefit from the introduction of some traditions that are tailor-made for your new family. “Even if it’s having a ‘wine night’ where you stay up late wrapping presents and enjoying a nice bottle of wine while reminiscing on your favorite memories from [the year], it’s the fact that you set aside time in advance to spend time together that makes it special,” says Michela Hattabaugh, a matchmaker with Three Day Rule. “Holidays are a time to celebrate those you love. Don’t forget about your number one partner throughout the year.”
5. Don’t be afraid to let go of some of the tasks and events on your list. Talk seriously with your spouse about which traditions and tasks really need to make a repeat appearance on your holiday schedule. It’s okay to make changes! “It’s easy to keep doing the same holiday things every year just because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Jill Whitney. “Do you really want to decorate as much as you have? Do you need to bake all those cookies? Do you need to buy gifts for so many people? Take a fresh look at what fits your life right now, and think about where you can dial things back.”
6. Write a decline script. One of the hardest things about making changes to holiday traditions is learning to say “no” to things that you’ve always done. Learning to turn down invitations is also key to making sure that you don’t finish out the holiday season totally zapped of all your energy. Marriage and family therapist Tim Thayne recommends that couples put together a decline script to make those situations a little easier. “Write and then practice a script for politely turning down invitations for yet another holiday party, ice skating with the baseball team, or a performing arts event,” Thayne says. “Realize and commit to memory that mantra that the quality of an event is far better than the quantity.” With a script to work from, you won’t be caught off guard when trying to tell a friend or family member — nicely — that you won’t be able to make it to their event.
How do you and your partner ensure that the holiday craziness doesn’t get the best of you? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photo via Getty)