8 Ways Couples Avoid Holiday Arguments
Every holiday all over social media I see snarky posts about the yearly tradition of arguing during the holidays. Maybe it is no surprise then that right after New Year’s Day couples therapist offices like mine are flooded with new clients seeking help for issues that came up over the holidays. This year, I thought I’d offer an ounce of prevention and put it out when you might be needing it most.
1. Spend Time With Each Other First
My little secret for Thanksgiving bliss is that I don’t work past 12pm on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Thursday. This allows me time to unwind before the all-day cooking and family events of Thanksgiving Day. Sometimes I go for a walk or take my wife out for a cup of coffee on a mini-date. This allows us a few minutes to remember and appreciate our relationship before we turn our attention to using that relationship to be generative to others. Then amid the stress of the days off, we can look at each other in the eye and smile and remember that the chaos of a holiday moment is a part of the joy of being in relationship with each other.
Taking that time to connect before the big holiday events also allows us to understand what we’re each bringing from the hustle-and-bustle of the rest of our lives. The point is that when we know what kinds of stressors we’re each carrying it becomes easier to not personalize a moment of snapping or criticism. You give yourself the opportunity instead to remember, “Oh, right, she just got off of the phone with work and maybe she’s still worried about that report that is due the Tuesday after she returns to work” instead of, “What’s her problem? I only asked about the time of the party on Saturday.”
3. Have Sex
During orgasm oxytocin, a bond-forming hormone, is released. Since you have some downtime, why not use it to reinforce your bond in a fun, invigorating, and argument preventing way? Maybe if you start off the holiday on the right foot, you will argue less and end of having even more sex as the days off continue!
4. Take Time Before Events to Plan
Make sure that you know the plans including who is doing what and on which days. Make sure that you give each other permission to shake-up some traditions lest “the way we always do it” become a prison that breeds resentments. Maybe this year she’s feeling too overwhelmed to be in charge of a traditional aspect of the season. Maybe he’s wanting to spend a little less time driving this year than usual because of his back problems . By reviewing, adapting, and reaffirming the plans, you can prevent one of the biggest sources of anger, violated expectations.
5. Learn From the Past
Remember how every year when your partner is making their famous nog, they yell at someone who is clearing the table? Why is that? Well, if they’re like me, when they are working in the kitchen, they need the freedom to concentrate. So, maybe this year you find a place to store the dirty dishes until your sweet-heart is done with making the nog. Similarly, maybe your partner frequently takes on too many responsibilities so you get mad at them feeling overwhelmed. Maybe this year for the first time the two of you can have a supportive conversation about how to prevent the triggers that seem like a predictable pattern.
6. Don’t Let Family Conflicts Become Your Conflicts
When we spend time with the family, old conflict often arise. Talk ahead of time of the known conflicts either of you have with the family members you will be seeing. Acknowledge the fact that the tensions exist and valid your partner’s reasons for having them. Then figure out how the two of you can be a united team in facing the challenge so that the two of you don’t start a fight with one person defending the family member against the other partner’s attack.
7. Less is More
In our success fueled culture, there’s often a perception that more is better. A bigger feast, more tradition, more presents, a bigger party, more visits, more food, and more alcohol. But with each of these things comes consequences that can be hard to see if you only focus on the idealized vision. A bigger feast is more time cooking. More traditions may mean more time preparing, more time shopping, or a tighter schedule. More presents means more stress about money. A bigger party is more clean-up time. More food is more time prepping and more indigestion. More alcohol is less time attentive and sharp to the needs of partner, family, and yourself. All of that “more” means less sleep and more irritability. Try less. Create a rotating schedule and bake only one of your three pies each of the next three years. Instead of a party, invite only friends closest to you. You will leave yourself more time for enjoying and savoring the experiences that you create if you make fewer of them.
8. Go to Couples Therapy
Often the reason for arguments during the holidays is that the things you’ve been avoiding start bubbling to the surface. Get into couples therapy now while you are thinking about it. Going to couples therapy can give you a container for working through the challenges and create a pressure valve so that you don’t start dealing with it over the holiday feast. I have space available in my practice, contact me.