Seasonal Festive Stress: The Effects on Couples and How to Manage it.

Psychologists note that the majority of individuals who encounter stress over the festive period fail to recognise or acknowledge it, putting it down to tiredness or hangovers. When spending more money than usual, spending time with in-laws, guests and extended family, coupled with corporate festive commitments, demands (and tall orders) from children or from family members.  It’s no surprise– we can see that the expectation of a Perfect Christmas, goes hand in hand with stress.

For couples, there is additional stress: trying to make the time together special, meeting each other’s expectations for the festive period and trying to manage the festive period together – so by midnight on New Year’s Eve, they still have each other to kiss.

Causes of Seasonal Stress

The two weeks before Christmas is one of the ‘peak times’ for couples to break-up, the festive holidays notoriously bring to the surface the little cracks in relationships, possibly causing relationships already struggling to break down. It’s important to understand the causes for stress before knowing how to reduce or manage them, ensuring your relationship stays strong over the Christmas period and into the New Year.

Expectations:  Whether it be the expectations of children, wanting that ‘must-have’ toy, or the expectations of family, friends and partners; it’s important to be realistic. Do not try to achieve the impossible and remember to be inclusive of your partner. If you are attending events together, or family event, make sure you do not leave them out or exclude them in conversations – it is easy to be complacent with the people we love the most.

‘Our Christmas’:  The term ‘our’ is important. ‘In our house we do this…’, ‘for our Christmas we always’.  If you are a new couple, merging the traditions you are both used to can cause stress for both of you. For the more established relationships we often use the terms ‘our’ ‘us’ ‘we’. Speaking, arranging, or organising, for another person can cause them additional stress. Be mindful.

Logistics:  We are expected to share ourselves throughout the festive holidays, often between our own family and that of our partners. If your families do not live close to one another, stress can often be the result of trying to visit everyone within a short space of time.

Patience:  Stress is often caused when a loved one runs out of patience, with added pressure, we often become short and snappy. If you see this happening, make sure you acknowledge and recognise it and say the important words: ‘I’m sorry’.

Role Reversal:  When you visit parents, Psychologists see a shift from you being the adult to suddenly being your parent’s child again and quickly adapting to the house rules. This is a difficult task when trying to get your partner, and possibly children, to do the same. It is important to acknowledge how your partner might perceive this role shift as it may make them feel quite uncomfortable, especially if you do not visit your parents often. This will cause stress for you and your partner.

How to Manage Seasonal Stress

Make time for Each other:  Making time for your partner is important. Although you and your partner will be jointly attending all the festivities, with the Christmas rush it is easy to muddle through and forget to spend time alone with your partner. Make a few dates where you will spend time alone together to stay connected – visit Christmas markets, attending the ballet or a theatre production. Whatever you enjoy as a couple, make time for one other. Remember that as stress increases, the care for your relationship should also increase.

Communication:  This is key. Speaking to each other will help build and maintain the romantic bond. If you feel your partner is being unrealistic, speak with them about your concerns and tell them what is important for you. Take a step back and look at your own behaviour – we often see ourselves as not being in the wrong but try and see yourself from your partner’s perspective. If an apology is in order, acknowledge it.

Being united:  ‘Our’ Christmas and the way you used to do it changes when you’re in a relationship. Create your own traditions, recognising the important things to both of you from your childhood or past that you both want to continue forward.

Helping each other:  Often when your partner is stressed, it is easy to offer advice. Be careful here, because this can come across as that you can handle the situation better than them, creating feelings of inadequacy. Instead, offer a compassionate ear. Often unloading the feeling of stress can help share the load whereas. Affection, which releases the love hormone Oxytocin, also helps reduce stress so cuddling your partner will help lift their mood.

Create a Plan:  Pre-arranging when you will see each other’s family, shop, organise, prepare and even tidy for the festive Holidays will help manage each other’s expectations and that of others.

Time:  Give yourself enough time to complete the mundane tasks as well as the things you will enjoy together. Avoid leaving things to the last minute so you can have that added time with your partner instead of wrapping last minute gifts.

Although Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, taking notice of your partner and their feelings throughout the festive period will help make them feel special and cared for, allowing you both to enjoy the festivities.