Use Your Relationship as a Source of Support During the Holidays

The holidays are ideally a time for joy and connection, but they can be trying for many of us. There are many things that lead to holiday stress, including things like the following:

  • Having to be “nice” to your annoying rich uncle who always asks how your career is going in that condescending way
  • Wanting to create the “perfect” Thanksgiving meal, but getting so anxious about the details you can’t enjoy yourself
  • Trying to find meaningful gifts, but becoming overwhelmed and exhausted by the crowds
  • Feeling weighed down and depressed by the increasingly cold, dark days
  • Enjoying all the delicious food and drink, but hating the voice in your head critical of your “unhealthy” choices
  • Pushing yourself to socialize at your neighbor’s holiday party, even though all you really want to do is snuggle in at home
  • Worst of all, maybe the holidays for you are more about loss than celebration – a reminder of what you don’t have, but wish you did

And the list goes on and on….. It can all get to be TOO MUCH! You want to be able to relax, rejuvenate, and spend meaningful time with those you really care about, but you have so much to do. Before you know it, the holidays will have come and gone and you’ve barely had a chance to enjoy any of it.

Don’t let this happen to you! Make a vow (right now!) to approach this holiday season differently.

One of the best ways I keep myself grounded and stress-free during the holidays is using my wife as a source of support. If I talk openly and calmly about my stressors, she can hear me. She understands. She supports. I am soothed….

However, if I don’t pay attention to my mood and activities, I can quickly become not very nice. I can snap, become irritable, or feel like SHE is somehow the source of my misery (which she isn’t :)). I’m already worried about finances, feeling completely overwhelmed, or annoyed with my extended family, and now I have relationship issues on top of it! It isn’t pretty – and so easily avoided.

Self-Awareness, Communication, and Planning Help You Manage Holiday Stress

It takes conscious awareness and planning to use my relationship as a source of support. If I’m not aware, I end up taking my increased stress out on her (see this earlier post for more about that). The real question is HOW do you maintain awareness of your own stress enough to enjoy the holidays and stay connected to your partner?

The answer lies with planning and preparedness. This may sound dull and boring, but it pays to think ahead. Here are 7 ideas you can implement with your spouse or partner to help you not just cope with holiday stress, but become closer in your relationship:

  1. Learn Your Own Cues

    Know what it FEELS like (especially in your body) when you are stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed. Do you get more tired, have muscle tightness, have trouble sleeping, or become irritable? It is essential to know! You can use these cues as signals to slow down, rest, and talk with your partner about what is going on. Download our free ebook to help you better gain awareness of your feelings and learn how to talk about them.

  2. Talk With Your Partner

    Establish a routine for talking openly about what’s stressing you out. The easiest way is to schedule time every day where you touch base with each other. The time can be as short as 20-30 minutes, but consistency is key. The more you regularly talk about meaningful topics (ie, your feelings), the more you trust you have a reliable source of support.

  3. Establish “Emergency” Codes

    Setting up a shared secret signal between you and your partner will help you subtly communicate you need extra support. This is especially important in social situations, where open talking is not always possible. It can be a code word/phrase or specific touch you previously agreed on. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or need down time (for example, needing to leave a party early or taking a few minutes to yourself) it’s immensely reassuring knowing your partner has your back.

  4. Schedule Alone Time With Your Partner

    Whether you go on a date, stay home for dinner and drinks, go on a hike, or have sex, it’s ESSENTIAL to take time devoted just to connecting in your relationship.

  5. Stay Connected Even When You’re Apart

    Discuss small things you can do for each other to help you stay connected, even when it’s impossible to be alone together. Short texts or calls, leaving notes, or holding hands in social settings are a few of many possible ways you can let each other know you’re still with them, even when you’re not.

  6. Create Traditions

    The holidays are all about tradition. But this doesn’t mean you have to continue traditions you learned from the family you grew up in. Developing traditions unique to your relationship and family is an important way to feel close. Especially if these traditions include time to talk, hang out, or just BE together (eg, going on a winter hike, eating a particular meal, going to a special place), they will develop into activities you can rely on to feel safe and connected.

  7. Expect to Struggle at Times

    As much as you plan ahead, communicate, and implement healthy strategies for coping with holiday stress, it’s likely unexpected difficulties will show up. Misunderstandings, hurtful interactions with family members (or with each other), too much to do in too little time, managing crazy kids not in school and hopped up on sugar – the list of potential problems is endless. However, if you accept this as all part of the “holiday season,” it’s easier to manage issues when they do show up. Instead of a problem ruining your day (or even your whole holiday), it can be more like a speed bump you have to slow down for on the road of celebrating your holidays. Talk openly about issues/people/settings/activities each of you is more likely to struggle with and develop a plan for how best to manage it.

Implementing these ideas will help you feel closer to your spouse or partner because you will come to KNOW you can rely on him/her to be there for you if things start going downhill. You’re creating a structure for not only managing holiday stress in a positive way, but building habits that create connection in your relationship and lead to a more joyful holiday season.

If you need further support in using your relationship to help you manage holiday (or any other kind of) stress, we offer marriage, couples, and individual counseling. Click here to schedule your appointment today. We’d love to talk with you!