It’s one of life’s enigmas; the winter holiday season, which is supposed to bring the greatest joy, sometimes causes more feelings of depression and anxiety. Relationships and marriages , says family therapist Rachel Sussman, often suffer holiday-related setbacks. Here’s a look at holiday relationship issues, with some first-hand advice about ways to cope.
Problems over money
Holiday spending, particularly over-spending, can wreak relationship havoc. Early on, my husband and I set budgets for our per-person holiday spending. We don’t go into debt for presents or get into gifting competitions. We don’t participate in family gift exchanges in lean years. This has kept our spending stress to a minimum.
One year, I outdid myself on gifts for my husband, spending hours hunting up certain books he wanted. I made the mistake of reminding him of this once. It hurt his feelings. He thought I was insinuating that he hadn’t spent as much or worked as hard to find the gifts. That was a lesson learned for me, not to be competitive with gift-giving.
Keep expectations reasonable
It’s easy to expect that the holidays will be one big stress-free party. Sometimes, it’s quite the opposite; holiday responsibilities, hectic schedules and the generally stepped-up pace leave us exhausted and irritable. Christmas morn often dawns to many couples at each others’ throats. We are learning to expect less of ourselves, to look for spiritual renewal and to avoid holiday overdrive.
Don’t buy into drama
We have several relatives who will make the holidays miserable if they are allowed to. After years of letting them, we learned to plan ahead. Now, if someone starts trouble, we ignore them and start other conversations. If it gets too bad, we all move into another room. Our dramatists are learning to find healthier ways of interacting.
Spend time together relaxing
We do whatever it takes to slow down and work less. For me, that means using all paper products and disposable serving dishes, shopping less and go out to eat more. We also turn off the TV and just visit.
If you’re depressed, it’s okay to share that with your partner. Your partner may be feeling the same way, and it can help both of you to know that you’re not alone. Partners shouldn’t be used as toxic waste dumps and be expected to fix problems, but expressing problems without blame or shame is healthy.
Having a glass of wine or a few beers around the holidays can be fun. Drinking to excess can be a Molotov cocktail for relationships. Lowered inhibitions can spark arguments. We’ve agreed to drink only after we’ve eaten and are relaxing and to limit our alcohol intake.
After 24 years of marriage, we are learning to prioritize, avoid known pitfalls and celebrate more simply to protect our relationship from holiday-induced problems.