The holidays feel so romantic. Who doesn’t love tinsel and twinkling lights, hot cocoa, warm blankets, and countless Christmas movies?
This year, maybe you’ve been watching those sweet, sappy Hallmark movies and wishing that your life was more like a holiday romance. It’s easy to feel like it should be. The main characters in those stories are always enchanting—a sweet young woman who’s waiting for that big promotion, the single mom who hopes to find love again, the young man whose family misunderstands him, the little girl who dreams of the perfect Christmas.
Maybe you’re not in any of those exact made-for-movie situations, but you may feel like you are waiting for your big moment when something amazing happens in your relationship or when something miraculously changes your life for the better. Something that will remove the stress, make all your dreams come true, and usher you into Happily Ever After.
But life is not like a holiday romance movie.
Real life can be messy.
Relationships can be messy.
Family can be messy.
Marriages can be messy.
Jobs can be messy.
Everything we do is marked with imperfections, and for some relationships, the holidays don’t sparkle like freshly fallen snow. In fact, November through February are often make-it-or-break-it months for couples.
3 Reasons the Holidays Strain Relationships
1: Unmet Expectations
It’s mistletoe season and, by nature, many women are hopeless romantics. If you’re a single woman in a relationship and things are going well, you may hope for a surprise ring to appear in your Christmas stocking.
When that kind of anticipation is met with disappointment, it can put a strain on a couple’s future. Some women decide that the relationship must not be going anywhere and call it quits, promising themselves they'll find true love in the New Year. Other women meet their disappointment by acting more demanding, desperate, or depressed.
Unmet expectations for your future are difficult, and although you may dream of being surprised by a romantic proposal, it’s wise to communicate about whether you’re both on the same page regarding the timing of your next steps.
A diamond isn’t the only expectation women may have. There are a lot of missteps taken over gift-giving during the holidays that could be cleared up with better communication. If you haven’t talked to your partner about gift giving, do it sooner rather than later. Know how much money you’re each planning to spend. It doesn’t sound romantic, but many women get hurt when an extravagant gift is given and then not met with an equally generous gift received.
2: Stress, Stress, and More Stress
Hard things happen in our lives, even over the holidays. Jobs are lost, hearts are broken, difficult decisions need to be made, loved ones die, diagnoses are received—tragedy does not respect time nor season.
It’s no wonder some couples crack under the pressure and call it quits. It’s difficult to deal with life’s struggles on top of the mix of frenzied holiday parties, frantic shopping, and a sleigh full of family gatherings.
Even without any additional life stressors, the holiday season can cause conflict between couples. Around this time of year, many women find themselves wrestling with “are-we-or-aren't-we” or “should-we-or-shouldn't-we” relationship questions.
You may already be feeling a lack of connection or interest in continuing your relationship with your partner, and now the holidays are magnifying your empty and unfulfilled feelings. There may be so much stress that you’re constantly arguing and mad at each other. Who wants to drag their relationship drama into a family gathering? Nobody. Fighting in front of the in-laws can make for awkward holiday photographs.
Do all that you can minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays. Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect or even the same from year-to-year. Choose a few traditions to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. Instead of getting caught up in an argument, try setting aside grievances until you have a more appropriate time to discuss them. And be understanding. Chances are everyone—including your partner—is feeling the effects of holiday stress.
3: Negative Emotions
This holiday season may not be a joyous occasion. You or your partner may be dealing with lingering sadness from grief or bouts of depression. Maybe it represents the anniversary of a loved one passing or some other traumatic event. Or maybe anxiety or depression (or both) have crept into your relationship through one or both of you, making it difficult to find any trace of holiday cheer. Where glad tidings once filled the room, now negative emotions suck out all the air.
If you’re feeling enthusiastic about the holidays and love your family traditions, but your partner wants to be alone and isolated, that can be a natural cause for conflict. You want to be compassionate and show empathy, but it can be difficult to sit through someone’s pain and be patient. It’s possible you may need to seek outside counsel for how to navigate through negative emotions over the holidays. If you or your partner need help—don’t be afraid to ask for it.
Huddle Up and Make a Plan
So, the question remains—how can you protect your relationship over these next few months?
Your relationship is a team effort, and teams gather in a huddle to plan an upcoming play. The huddle unites the team and increases their chances of winning, regardless of what happens next. Huddle up with your partner and make a plan.
Examine Your Expectations: When your expectations are too high or unrealistic, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Instead, identify what you expect and take an assessment on whether your expectations align with your reality. If they don’t, you have one of two choices:
Alter your expectations
Alter your reality
(Hint: It may not feel like it at the moment, but it’s much easier to shift your expectations than it is to adjust your reality.)
If your expectations are realistic, then make sure you communicate them to your partner. As we already cited, if you expect a nice gift and he expects no gifts, you should probably discuss that and make a compromise now, otherwise you’ll end up frustrated and disappointed.
Examine Your Relationship Health: You should be having ongoing conversations about your relationship. Only you know if your relationship is healthy enough to make it through the holidays or if you’re tangled in a toxic partnership.
Take a quick personal assessment of your relationship by reviewing our two-part series My Relationship: Healthy or Toxic?
Too many women (and men too!) go into the holidays ignoring the check they have in their gut, thinking they’ll wait until after the holidays to have that big heart-to-heart talk. The problem with that plan is called holiday guilt. If you suffer through the holidays in your bad relationship, it is even harder to break things off after all of the gift-giving and family gatherings together. Don’t stay in an unhealthy relationship for the wrong reasons, such as fear of being alone or guilt.
Before you find yourself knee-deep in the holiday season, have a conversation with your partner about your future. Though your life and relationship shouldn’t be compared to the movies, you can make your holiday season look and feel more desirable by taking the time to huddle up, communicate, and make a plan.
Do you want to leave your partner, but you find yourself struggling to get out? You may need help. If you find yourself in that situation now, you should seek outside counsel. Please call one of our clinics* and we can provide you a list of resources available to help you.
*If you are in danger, please call 911.