Why do we love Hallmark holiday movies so much? Perhaps it's because they feature attractive couples who meet cute, overcome all obstacles, and enjoy a perfect holiday every single time. Unlike the rest of us mortal marrieds, who squabble, snap and fume at each other more often than we'd like to admit. It's almost impossible to avoid conflict at this time of year, but experts assure us that there are ways to keep holiday stress from affecting your marriage.
Why do we get so bent out of shape during a time that's supposed to be all about joy to the world and cozy family togetherness? "Couples can encounter a number of stressful situations, such as where to divide their time between each partner's family, coping with family members who don't get along, being financially overburdened, hosting events or out-of-town guests, traveling, and so on," Dr. Marni Feuerman, a licensed marriage therapist in Boca Raton, FL, tells Romper. Add to that the hassle of trying to create an Instagram-worthy holiday, and you've got a pressure-cooker situation that would terrify even the Grinch.
Keeping your relationship strong in the midst of the holiday chaos takes some work, but the results are worth it. Follow this helpful expert advice, and you and your partner might even outdo the Hallmark couples in the seasonal cheer department.
1. Make Your Marriage Your #1 Priority
If you and your spouse prefer to spend a lazy Christmas morning with the kids at home, but your parents are urging you to come over at the crack of dawn, don't feel obligated to change your plans. "Put your relationship first!" emphasizes Dr. Feuerman, whose advice is also available on her website. "What you both want and what is right for you both is more important than whatever another family member wants."
2. Make A Game Plan Early
When couples aren't on the same page about such important issues as how much to spend on gifts and what to do with the kids over vacation, tensions come to a head. Stop the stress before it starts by discussing your expectations ahead of time, explained the A Peaceful Life Counseling Services website. Ask yourselves: What's important to each of you? What's worked for your family in the past — and what hasn't? What are your biggest concerns? Then you can figure out how best to shop and celebrate.
3. Don't Assume The Worst
"Another pitfall for couples is imagining the worst and catastrophizing about what you think is going to happen," explains Dr. Feuerman. "Often, things aren't as bad as you imagined, or you underestimate your abilities to cope and handle things." Again, this is where planning ahead will go a long way. If you and your spouse argue over going to his folks' place because of that uncle who always starts a political debate, have a strategy in place. For instance, you both could agree on a signal to use when it's time to go home, no questions asked.
4. Be Willing To Bend
For those marital conflicts that just seem to go nowhere, sometimes the best thing to do is to give in for the sake of keeping the peace. "Sharing power and accepting influence is crucial to reducing conflict," says Dr. Feuerman. "Remember that there's always next year if you don't get your way this time."
However, if it seems as though you're always the one yielding when disagreements come up, that's not a healthy situation. "Speak up about it," urges Feuerman. Your spouse may not realize that there's such an imbalance of power in your marriage. If that doesn't work, and you're feeling resentful about the situation, "it may be time to seek professional help," adds Feuerman.
5. Do Little Loving Things
Sometimes couples get so caught up in shopping, errands, and kids that they forget that the holidays should be fun for them, too. The Couples Thrive therapy website recommends that partners take time to stay connected during the holidays, even in little ways. Spend a night cuddled up to watch It's a Wonderful Life. Put a small gift in your spouse's coat pocket. Or tell your parents that the best gift they could give you would be a night of babysitting so you two can enjoy a quiet dinner. When you reclaim the love and enjoyment of your relationship, it'll be that much easier to face the stress of the holidays as a united front — and conquer it with confidence.
After experiencing a traumatic c-section, this mother sought out a doula to support her through her second child’s delivery. Watch as that doula helps this mom reclaim the birth she felt robbed of with her first child, in Episode Three of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below. Visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes, launching Mondays in December.