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  • Writer's pictureRichard Reynolds

Maintaining Good Communication During the Holidays

Do you and your partner find yourselves stressed and more tense during the holidays? Good news, it’s not just you! While the holidays are a time of connection, traditions, love, and celebration, they are also undoubtedly stressful for most couples. There are more social events to coordinate and expenses to squeeze into the budget. And that’s to say nothing of navigating relationships with in-laws or your own family of origin. It’s just a lot to manage.

Couple smiling at each other while holding a sparkler. They are standing in front of a Christmas tree scene.

As a couple, it can be challenging to deal with all this without communication taking a hit. So here are five tips to help keep communication flowing and conflict to a minimum during stressful moments.

1. Give Yourselves Permission to Feel Stressed

Yes, really! The first tip is to simply give yourselves and each other permission to feel stressed and/or overwhelmed during the holidays. There can often be a lot of pressure for the holidays to be a time of joy, happiness, etc. and this makes it easy to feel guilty about feeling stressed. However, the best way to stay stuck in negative emotions and not figure out solutions is to assume you shouldn’t feel the way you feel.

It makes complete sense that the holidays bring up unexpected negative emotions. Beyond the stressful logistics, the holidays can also be emotionally intense when they bring up nostalgia, painful memories from the past, feelings of loss and grief about those who aren’t with us this year, and a sense of loneliness when we see others that seem to be happier or more connected with loved ones.

All of these feelings are fully human and make sense. No need to hold yourself or your spouse to unrealistic expectations. You will be able to see and communicate more clearly about what is going on if you aren’t too busy judging how you feel. The more we try to ignore or repress negative emotions, the more difficult it is to feel positive emotions deeply.

2. Identify Triggers And Make A Game Plan

Is dealing with the budget going to be a challenge? Is there a particular family member you’re worried about spending time with this year? Are you going to be stressed out by all the unhealthy foods being pushed on you? Is too much time around lots of people going to be overwhelming?

Once you have identified what situations are going to be difficult for you or your partner, try to identify one resource or strategy that will help you when the trigger comes up. This might be as simple as being able to acknowledge that you’re feeling triggered. This may also include establishing clear boundaries or planning to take breaks when needed, etc.

One helpful thing to keep in mind with things like this is it’s normal and predictable that you won’t always be able to provide support for each other for every single thing that comes up. It can take a lot of pressure off of the relationship when you can identify other resources/people (friends, family, therapist, etc.) outside of the relationship who can help in ways you’re not always able to help each other.

3. Make Expectations Explicit

Couple leaning on each other while smiling and holding wrapped gifts and a mini evergreen tree with lights.

When things are stressful it can be easy to assume that our partner already knows what we are expecting/wanting. This can be especially important around the holidays because there are so many big and little things we associate with the holidays growing up. This can include everything from what foods we expect to eat to how much time we spend with various family members.

What experiences are you hoping to have? What makes the holidays feel like holidays for you? Are the holidays a time for more romance? Should the holidays be booked full of fun activities or slow and unstructured?

Think as specifically as you can about these kinds of questions and then share what you learned with each other. Being fully transparent about what we expect/hope for allows for more genuine compromise, fewer unpleasant surprises, and a greater sense of you both feeling more seen and understood.

4. Set Boundaries

Once you’ve established your triggers and expectations, you can discuss how to set some boundaries. It's okay to say no to invitations or requests for your time if it feels like you have too much on your plate already.

Don't feel obligated to attend every holiday party or function. It's important to prioritize your own well-being and the well-being of your relationship.

5. Practice Gratitude

Getting caught up in the stress and overwhelm of the holiday season is easily done, but practicing gratitude can help shift your focus to the positive. Practicing gratitude can increase your mood and emotional resilience as well as find a greater sense of purpose and meaning.

Take time to reflect on the things you're grateful for and share them with your partner. This can help bring a sense of connection, perspective, and appreciation to your relationship.

Dealing with the stress of the holidays as a couple can be challenging, but by following these tips and being proactive about being compassionate with yourselves, sharing triggers, making expectations explicit, setting boundaries, and practicing gratitude, you can navigate the season with grace, joy, and connection.

Two pairs of feet wearing cozy socks near a lit fireplace.

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