It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. So why are you snapping at your partner and always feeling aggravated? Thing is, you’re not alone. Fighting with your significant other is, sadly, just a staple of the season. Even worse, there seems to be a never-ending list of things to be cranky about. Here's a list of the common things parents argue about during the holidays and how to avoid them.
When you think about it, it’s a shame that the holidays come at the end of the year. You’re tired. You’re burnt out. Add in all the extracurriculars that schools pile on in December (i.e. Dress Your Kid Like An Elf Day, bring in 30 cupcakes for the class party, and be sure to attend the school’s Winter Wonderland event ), and is it no wonder that parents snap at each other. “The holidays are a stressful time for many families,” Dr. Margaret Paul, relationship expert, tells Romper. “Whether it’s fighting over what gifts to get the kids, how much to spend, which family’s house to spend the holiday at or to stay home, what to have for a holiday dinner, resolution will be easily reached when both people want to learn from the conflict.”
So read about these 20 common things that parents argue about during the holidays, and learn how to navigate the situation if they do come up.
By far, finances can spark quite a holiday quarrel. “Money is one of the most common things parents fight about around the holidays,” Beth Sonnenberg, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and relationship expert based in New Jersey, explains to Romper. “Couples need to figure out how much they are going to spend on gifts for their kids, each other, friends and family as well as how much to put towards vacation and what to do with end of the year bonuses.” By having a plan, you can then plan to fight less.
2. Who Did More
When it comes to setting up the tree, baking the Christmas cookies with the kiddos, it might start to feel like all the work is a little lopsided. But arguing over who has done more isn’t worth the fight, advises Sonnenberg. “It’s never a good argument to have,” she says. “No one should be keeping score.” If you find that you’re doing more, ask your partner to pitch in in other areas, like doing dishes or bathing the kids so you’re not carrying the entire load.
3. Where To Have The Holidays
Having two sets of grandparents who want to see the grands is a good thing — until it comes to the holidays. “However you divide your time should be discussed ahead of time,” says Sonnenberg. “You need to come up with a plan together that you stick to so everyone knows what to expect and can plan their expectations accordingly.” That might mean changing off every other year, or splitting the holiday in half by spending part of it with one side of the family and then the other one.
4. In-laws (Or Another Annoying Relative)
If your partner is well aware of your feelings towards a certain relative and doesn't necessarily share your sentiments, it can potentially cause some bad feelings to fester and eventually turn into a fight. Set up some guidelines as to how much time you're going to spend with said family members (either your place at theirs or vice versa) so that you don’t have to endure an in-law (or any other relative who makes your skin crawl) longer than you need to.
If you're hosting, you'll need to probably do a deep cleaning before the festivities commence — just don’t fight about it. “Try to prioritize what really needs to be done and save some tasks for after your guests leave so you are not stick in the kitchen cleaning the whole time,” says Dr. Julie Quimby, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in ME. Assign age-appropriate tasks to your team (i.e. your family) so that you don’t have to do it all alone.
6. What Activities To Do
Holiday school shows. Work parties. “Many couples run themselves ragged visiting with friends, family, and work colleagues,” Suzie and James Pawelski, co-authors of HAPPY TOGETHER: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love that Lasts, tell Romper in a joint statement. In turn, they end up feeling drained with nothing left to give to one another — except a good ol’ fight. “Instead take time to think about those people in your life who uplift you, rather than exhaust you, and schedule some meaningful time to see them,” they advise.
Some people like to spend the entire holiday cooking over a hot stove. But if you spy your partner happily chatting up your guests and sampling those sizzling apps that you just took out of the oven, well, things just might get hotter than your 425 degree oven. Instead of itching for a fight, ask your partner to help clean up the finished plates (or stir the sauce for you), so that you’re not stuck in the kitchen the entire evening.
8. Feeling Neglected
With a to-do list that just never ever seems to end, the holidays can make you feel super stressed — and frankly, kind of neglected, too. After all, if you’re taking everything on, you might feel like you’re carrying all of the tasks. That's when you need to speak to your partner about how you feel, advises the Pawelskis. “You may even be surprised to realize that neither of you are interested in running around town but would rather stay in and snuggle on the couch with a mug of warm cocoa listening to holiday music,” they say.
9. Family Traditions
When you grew up, you opened presents at midnight, but your partner’s family did so the next day. It might not seem like a big deal, but trying to transform family traditions that will make sense for your own crew can be complicated. “Couples often have more conflict due to family or origin dynamics that may stress the bond between the couple,” says Dr. Quimby. When possible, see how you can blend your favorite parts of the holidays together to create an entirely new way of celebrating.
10. The “Clark W. Griswold” Effect
No two ways about it: The holidays are a stressful time for families. Expectations are high, events are numerous, spending may exceed income, and dysfunctional family dynamics take center stage. “Indeed, the reality of the holiday is often quite different than the idealized images of the perfect holiday we hold in our head,” says Dr. Quimby. So try to lower your expectations so that you don’t set the bar so high that it evolves into an argument.
Sure, stress causes fights, but you might also find yourself in the throes of an argument over who's more stressed out. "Couples can plan ahead to minimize the stress by reducing the number of events they chose to attend, setting a budget and saving for the holiday season, and checking in with one another frequently about needs," says Dr. Quimby. That's why it's especially important to take care of yourself at the holidays, and make sure you get enough sleep, healthy food and plenty of hydration.
12. How Many Presents The Kids Are Getting
There’s always going to be one parent who thinks that the kids are getting way too many presents. And whether they’re right or wrong, it can lead to a battle royale, right in the middle of all that wrapping paper. Dr. Quimby advises: “Try setting a limit on the number of gifts can encourage a quality over quantity mindset and create more intention in your gift giving practices.”
Decorating takes on a whole new meaning when the holidays hit. Whether it’s a matter of too much decorating (or too little), or feeling like it’s up to you to pull the whole house together, don’t let décor deter your holiday happiness. A good way to start: figure out how much money you want to spend together and plan accordingly in what will have the biggest impact. Just be sure to budget in some extra money for increased electric bills.
14. What Gifts To Buy Family Members
Grandma, Grandpa, Aunts, uncles, that cousin twice removed who’s coming to your holiday fete — there sure are a lot of people on Santa’s nice list this year. But when you start adding it up, it can become a big financial burden—and the source for an old-fashioned argument about money. “Have an open discussion where each partner writes out who they need to buy gifts for and the ballpark figure they want to spend,” advises Sonnenberg. And then once you have an idea of how much you want to spend and who truly needs a gift, you can brainstorm about what to get.. together.
15. How To Celebrate
The holidays can become ho hum when you and your partner come from different backgrounds and are trying to figure out how to best blend your unique ways of celebrating. “Have each partner make a list of the traditions they did as a kid and rank them in order from 1-10,” suggests Sonnenberg. “Then, include the ones that rank highest.” But if your top picks conflict, (or if you can’t figure out a way to incorporate them all), you can just switch off yearly so that everyone is happy.
16. When To Tell The Kids About Santa
When you’re wrapping present after present, someone might start getting tired of all the Scotch tape and ribbons and want to tell the truth about Santa. But you don’t want to burst your kids' holiday bubble, especially if you’re tired and stressed. "After all, it’s never a good idea to make permanent decisions based on temporary emotions," says Sonnenberg. And even if your kids are big enough to know the truth about Santa, "Emphasize the idea that it’s about the spirit of giving and the magic of the holidays,” says Sonnenberg.
17. Holiday Fatigue
You’ve got oh-so-much to do and oh-so-little time to do it all in. Sure, the holidays are fun, but they’re also equal parts exhausting. “When a couple is on the go shopping, attending events, or traveling, arguments can ensue purely because too much is going on and burnout starts to impact the relationship’s patience or ability to cope,” Babita Spinelli, a psychotherapist and relationship coach tells Romper. “One partner may also feel angry because they feel there is too much going on while another is fine with all the busyness.” So be open with each other about what exactly is too much, and then exercise some self-care by declining an invite or taking a pause to rest.
18. Toxic Family Members
Dealing with difficult or toxic family members can easily ignite fights with couples. “Showing up for and supporting your partner when dealing with the impact of toxic family members is helpful,” says Spinelli. “Ask each other what you may need to survive the family party and how you can support each other to get through it.” Being a team (and setting healthy boundaries) can avoid tension between the couple because of toxic family behaviors.
19. Elf On The Shelf
Yes, it’s silly, but moving that elf around each and every day is a surefire way to start a fight. (Especially if your partner promised that he would move it, and he, um, didn’t.) You can either write up a plan to handle the elf, or you can just hang in there a few more days until the holidays are over — and the elf goes right back into his box along with all of the other seasonal décor.
20. Social Media
You’ve planned a pretty perfect holiday get-together. But then you start scrolling through social media and you see these jaw-dropping images that make your tree look like Charlie Brown’s. But instead of complaining to your partner, it might be a good idea to check your own emotions first. “It’s dangerous to compare ourselves to social media images which often depict the very best and happiest moments in the lives of others,” says Dr. Quimby. “The feelings that result are most often negative and leave us feeling let down, disappointment or angry that we don't have the level of wealth, happiness, or joy that others experience.” So for the holidays, give yourself a present by possibly slowing down your social media usage — and enjoy the partner you have right in front of you.
So this holiday season, check in with your partner periodically on how they (and you) are feeling, and together come up with a plan — even a loose one — to help manage expectations.