Holiday Chaos Survival Tips For Couples :: Because Murder Is Not An Option

As a therapist who enjoys providing marriage and couples therapy, I've made the observation that partners struggle to work as a team during the busy, stress-filled and conflict-ridden holiday season. Feeling torn with competing interests such as family needs, travel and extra demands on time and energy can bring many to exasperation and exhaustion. If you tend to suffer because of your "people pleasing" nature and an inability to say NO, protecting your boundaries or creating healthy boundaries for yourself (perhaps you're new at this?) can be a real challenge.

Don't suffer in silence, or loudness. Many couples and partners enter marriage and family counseling after the holiday season because they feel disconnected, hurt and misunderstood, in addition to a range of other experiences, including losing once-enjoyed intimacy. Being in the company of family and friends can trigger feelings of resentment, reignite old wounds as well as highlight family of origin issues--leaving even high-functioning couples feeling de-skilled and in need of help to sort through the chaos.  

So, how do you reconnect after fighting, communication problems and hurt feelings? Having some simple tools at your ready can help you avoid the downward spiral. What follows are relationship skills that successful, connected couples practice regularly:

  • Be extra kind to yourself if you are prone to becoming depressed and anxious during the holiday season. It's the season and time of year for increased mood and anxiety problems, and for many reasons! Acknowledge and accept your losses and loneliness. It can be a lonely time and also a potent reminder of people who are no longer with us. Strong emotions that accompany endings such as break-ups and broken families feel especially present at this time. Find a compassionate and understanding person to share your feelings with, so that you feel less alone. It is likely that others are experiencing similar feelings. Trying to act "as if" you're okay is incredibly depleting.
  • It's a time for people who struggle with alcohol and drug abuse to feel triggered and to fall off the wagon or increase their use. Alcohol and many drugs actually make depression worse. Attend meetings such as AA if this is a helpful solution for you, or reach out to a trusted buddy or trusted family member to support you.
  • Not everything needs your immediate action or attention. Slack off where you can to reduce your stress and anxiety. Ask for help! This may not be your identity, or a style that you naturally default to, but consider making small changes. Set some limits. You can be nice and say no at the same time, although this is not the message we've gotten along the way.
  • Prepare in advance for the difficult people. It's unlikely that they've changed. So greet them with the awareness of what is, and be open to whatever may be. Roll with it and avoid defensiveness or getting "sucked in" to their drama. Don't engage, walk away if necessary, find some compassion and empathy and don't let them bring you down. Be the one who rises above the noise. If you're an adult, you may find it better to avoid these people altogether or make other plans. Try something different instead of suffering. If you can't avoid these people, take breaks, take walks, excuse yourself often.
  • Good spirit may include laughter. This helps, and laugh often! Look for the humor in the predictable or even new situations. Great crazy with humor and curiosity.
  • Watch distorted thinking during the holidays. Some top of the list favorites are: All or nothing thinking, mind reading, overgeneralization, jumping to conclusions and I "should" be doing this or that. It's not real, or some lesser version is more accurate.
  • Do something for someone else. Acts of kindness can distract you and ease your own misery.
  • If you've overwhelmed yourself, take a break and pause--just breathe. The super simple four part breath can be done anytime and anywhere. Inhale for a count of 4, pause for 4 counts, exhale for a count of 4 then rest for 4 counts. Remove yourself from a situation and breathe. This strategy helps even if you do it for a few minutes. It will help remove holiday stress toxins and can help you feel centered (or more centered). Pause, it's restorative.
  • Check-in with your partner. A simple "how are you doing?" or a quick hug can help you reconnect and convey love and care. Gestures such as touching can offer support.

Compassion and empathy, even when tempers flair, can help you stay aligned with your partner during the holidays. Successful couples learn to consistently communicate in ways that enhance their relationship as they practice "teamwork."  Remember: It's not a time to storm out during a heated moment--this leaves your partner feeling abandoned and will create additional problems later. Already sensitive as a result of other stressors, abandonment can be difficult to repair during times of stress, so be mindful. It's okay to say "I love you but need to take a walk around the block, I'll be back and we can talk then." It's also not the time to try to "win" an argument or exercise your need to be "right." I hope you have an easy and compassion-filled holiday.