The holidays are notorious for being equal parts celebration and stress. Travel, spending, family, and sometimes grief or disappointment coincide for some of the busiest weeks of the year. It’s no surprise, then, that the intensity of this season can take a toll on your most important relationship. In my own relationship, I have to be intentional about prioritizing time with my husband because I can get swept up in spending it with my family and friends. But here’s the thing: the holidays don’t have to be a drag on your connection. Through my work as a couples therapist and head therapist at the relationship counseling app, “Lasting,” I help couples strengthen their connections in any stage of their relationship. And when it comes to the holiday season, here’s my advice on how to stay strong, together.
RECOGNIZE WHEN YOUR PARTNER IS REACHING OUT
Has your partner asked for more quality time recently? Has she requested help with chores? Shopping? Travel plans? Each of these requests is an “emotional call,” the way your partner reaches out to see if she can count on you. Sadly, only 37 percent of men and 28 percent of women feel their partner is good at responding to their emotional signals, according to our Lasting research. Responding to these calls assures your partner that you’ve got her back and solidifies a stronger emotional connection between you. Win-win! This holiday, take note of when your partner reaches out and respond right back with support.
MAKE EACH OTHER'S DAY EASIER
When there’s a list of to-dos and the end of the year is approaching, it’s easy to buckle down and focus on what needs to get done. But take a moment out of your day to consider how you can lighten your partner’s load. How would you feel if he did this for you? This act of selflessness is exactly what healthy marriages are made of, and it really is so simple. What’s one thing you can take off your partner’s plate today? What would make his day easier, or at least a little more fun? You’ve got this!
STICK TO YOUR BOUNDARIES
Have troublesome in-laws or family conflict that puts your connection at risk? Set up some ground rules together before you enter that family space. This way, when things get uncomfortable, you’re able to assert your boundaries and stick to them, each fully supporting the other. Before you gather, spend time thinking through your role and responsibilities in your family. Think through what other members expect of you and whether those expectations are appropriate or not. Then, schedule some important conversations to address your concerns. Also, consider some boundaries around your quality time as a couple. We know the dinner spread might be Instagram gold, but perhaps you choose to set aside your devices for an hour a day to maximize connection. Or maybe you decide to have alone time together after hours just to catch up. Clear boundaries and simple rituals will help you prioritize your bond, even when there are a million other things vying for your attention.
CHECK IN WITH EACH OTHER
Remember that your partner is your greatest ally in the holiday season. Focus on taking care of each other. Once you are in the thick of the holidays, try to take the time for regular check-ins with one another. If you know your partner struggles with being around her mother, make sure to ask her how she’s doing when you’re with her parents. Don’t wait until after the holidays to share how you’re feeling. If you’re feeling neglected or left out, share this with your partner. This will help your partner know how to better care for you, and it will help you both to feel more connected.
VISUALIZE YOUR “IDEAL” HOLIDAY SEASON TOGETHER
A great way to keep your connection strong is to dream up your ideal holiday season together. Schedule a date night and ask each other questions such as, “What’s one holiday tradition we’d like to implement this year? How do we want to remember our family holidays? What’s one thing that’s very important to us this season?” These traditions will anchor your holiday season and help you prioritize when to say yes. Having your own traditions allows you to create your own meaning if the other family activities are overwhelming or insignificant to you. Getting on the same page about your hopes for this time will help you focus on what really matters to you as a family and will inspire you to make your dream a reality. Your holiday season might be jam-packed with commitments, but don’t let this keep you from nurturing your most important one. With some quality time, appreciation, and healthy boundaries, this year’s holiday could be your marriage’s best yet.
Liz Colizza, MAC, LPC, NCC, is a psychotherapist and Head of Research and Programs at the nation’s leading relationship counseling app, “Lasting.” Add a New Year’s resolution to your list and check it out. The goal? To prioritize your marriage and love your partner well.