The Christmas season can be a stressful time for any relationship. You have the added expenses, the sometimes unwanted interactions with extended family, the excessive alcohol (and hangovers!) and – in Australia – the sticky, irritating heat that makes everything just that little less bearable.
Researchers completed an interesting Facebook analysis recently, that shows the primary time frame for breakups is just prior to Christmas, so what’s going on?
Why is the stress experienced around Christmastime particularly damaging to a relationship and what can we do to prevent it?
Money is almost always a contentious issue in relationships, but during the holidays, finances can be stretched much further than any other time of year. Arguments can crop up over general expenses, post-Christmas debt, funds spent on gifts for other people outside of the relationship or family, as well as lack of income due to time away from work.
How to avoid this: Communicate at all times about money and set a realistic budget. If money is really tight but you feel obliged to buy gifts for family and friends, maybe suggest a Secret Santa arrangement.
Arguments can crop up about having to spend time with extended family, trying to decide whose set of family to spend time with, how much is spent on gifts for them and similar.
If you really don’t like your partner’s family (or your partner doesn’t like yours), resentment can build because you’re basically being asked to spend a large amount of time in the company of somebody you hate. You may feel worried your partner might not remain civil or may embarrass you. Even if you love your family-in-law, there’s still the added stress from having to accommodate or impress company.
Newer couples might also be under stress from having to meet their partner’s family for the first time. The stress of this is akin to attending a prolonged job interview, as your relationship will be under intense scrutiny, even if it’s subtle.
How to avoid this: Decide well in advance (even the year before) whose family you’ll be spending time with each year, perhaps visiting one set of in-laws one year, then the other set in consecutive years. Communicate behavioural expectations beforehand and limit the amount you both drink, if you feel tensions may develop. Remember, you don’t have to jam-pack everything into one or two days – spread it out if your schedule is too hectic.
If you or your partner feel uncomfortable around family, develop a code word that indicates you’ve had enough, so you can pull the plug and make an excuse to go home. It’s all about working as a team and doing so will strengthen your bond. Finally, if it’s that bad, is there any reason you can’t avoid extended family altogether and spend Christmas alone?
As much as we’d love our Christmas to look like something out of a Disney movie, the reality is usually very different. If members of a couple have differing expectations about what the holiday season should be like, then the cracks in an unstable relationship may widen. For instance, you may have grown up with the full turkey and cranberry sauce experience and received dozens of expensive gifts. So if your partner just wants a quiet Christmas BBQ and only buys you a small, inexpensive gift, you may feel disappointed or even unloved!
How to avoid this: Good communication is key here. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind – be proactive and tell them exactly what your expectations are. If expectations differ, it’s far more effective to discuss them beforehand, rather than feeling disappointment and resentful when the time comes.
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When one member of a couple is taking on a disproportionate number of duties over the holidays, resentment can quickly build and sour even the strongest relationship. Whether it’s looking after the kids, house work, present shopping, catering to visiting family or anything else, if your partner is not pulling their weight, you may decide you’ve had enough.
How to avoid this: Again, don’t expect your partner to know what you want, while resentment bubbles. Ask them for help if you need it, or ask them if they need help if you’re the one slacking off. Also, try to be empathetic if your partner usually works long hours, because they probably do deserve a rest; however, they also need to understand that you feel the same, so calmly explain this to them.
Shock to the System
If you or your partner work and aren’t usually the primary caretaker of your children, it can be a huge shock to suddenly be spending 24 hours a day with them during your holidays. This can, of course, cause many arguments – especially if your partner isn’t sharing the responsibility equally.
Pressure to play happy families often exposes the cracks in the relationship. It’s much easier to pretend that everything is ok when you can avoid each other in the day to day routine.
How to avoid this: Time flies when you’re having fun, so don’t let the kids run amok out of boredom; instead, plan fun family activities that will keep the kids happy and keep your minds off their small misbehaviours. This doesn’t need to be an expensive endeavour – even just a picnic in the park will be enough to delight your little ones. Communicate about parental responsibilities and compromise on duties.
If you and your partner do experience tension, then take a small break from each other. Maybe go out with friends for the day, or do some shopping alone. Again, hash out any problems with good communication.
Too Much Christmas Cheer
People tend to consume excessive amounts of alcohol and other substances during the holiday season and this can bring about a huge amount of tension into a relationship. Whether it’s because of addiction issues, illicit substance use or something regretful that happens due to one episode of binge drinking, imbibing too much can certainly take the Christmas cheer away!
How to avoid this: This is a tricky one if addiction is involved, but at the very least, try to set a good example by not drinking yourself, or limiting the amount you drink. If there is an addiction problem, you’ll eventually need to address it, regardless of the time of year. If this is the case, avoid events where alcohol or other substances will be present
It’s always a good idea to set a budget for drinks before attending any parties. If you only bring a few drinks, then you are limited to just that. If you’re attending a party where drinks are flowing profusely, ensure you eat a large meal before ingesting any alcohol and drink a glass of water between every alcoholic drink.
Rifts from Reflection
Many people use the time leading up to New Year to reflect on their life so far. For those in unhappy relationships, this may force them to consider whether they really want to continue down the same path, resulting in breakups.
How to avoid this: Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do if your partner is the one reflecting on the negatives; however, if you can see that they are unhappy, ask them to discuss it with you. The things that are huge issues in their mind may be things you’re willing to change with no problems.
If you’re the one reflecting on the negatives, try to remember the positives and why you fell in love with your partner in the first place. Sometimes when our minds are set on a track, it can be difficult to diverge from that line of thought without effort, but forcing yourself to remember the positives may just save your relationship! Discuss the problems you see because there may be a solution. Sometimes the solution is seeking outside help, a counsellor or mediator could help you get through a bumpy patch if both parties are willing.
A weighty problem
Ok, this one is a little far-fetched, but it nonetheless does occur. During the Christmas period, it’s easy to stack on the weight, with all the delicious food and alcohol consumed. Sometimes, this results in feelings of dissatisfaction with the personal appearance of a partner, so they call it quits!
How to avoid this: If you’re the one who feels your partner has become too pudgy, just remember that we all grow old and lose our attractiveness, so if you have problems with their appearance now, what will you do when they start developing wrinkles and sags? If you’re genuinely concerned about their weight for health reasons, encourage them to eat healthy and exercise by doing these things yourself and asking them to join in.
If your partner has decided they no longer want to be with you just because you’ve put on a few kilos (and not because of a genuine concern for your health), then perhaps it’s for the best! Who wants to be with somebody so shallow?
What to do if you’ve tried everything, but the relationship still fails
If your relationship fails despite you and your partner’s best attempts, you’re not alone and it’s ok! Allow yourself the grieving process – don’t feel obliged to put on a happy face for the benefit of others, but also don’t completely isolate yourself. Lean on your friends and family for support.
Keep in mind that holiday breakups aren’t always permanent, but by going through this, you can choose to reflect on what it was that brought you to this point and learn from your mistakes and counselling or mediation could be pursued. If the relationship is beyond help, divorce settlement can be a cooperative and peaceful process and doesn’t need to be expensive either. Whatever you choose, we hope your Christmas is full of love and joy!