Christmas isn’t always an easy time for couples. In fact, 70% of UK adults surveyed said that they expected Christmas to put pressure on their relationships this year. On top of money worries and anxiety over COVID-19, couples face the added stress of challenges unique to those approaching the festive season as a duo.
Here are some of the challenges our therapists get asked about again and again, and their suggestions on some of the best ways to approach them.
The trickiest challenges couples face during the holidays and how to navigate them
Where do we spend Christmas Day?
Christmas is a time for family, right? In 2014, we ran a survey that showed 90% of people wanted to spend Christmas with their immediate family. But what do you do if your ideal vision for the holiday is your immediate family and your partner – and that’s their ideal vision too?
The question of who to spend Christmas Day with is a challenge we’ve explored in detail. And of course it can get even more complicated in step-families or blended families who are already trying to balance competing priorities. But generally, we think there are four steps to facing this challenge as a unit.
Firstly, be realistic – squeezing in three separate Christmas dinners is a recipe for a stomach ache both literally and figuratively. Start talking to your partner early not about what you think your obligations are, but what you can realistically and enjoyably manage on the big day.
Secondly, try not to change everything all at once. The past few years have been tumultuous for all of us, and it’s likely that even more change could inspire panic. Instead, introduce change gradually – like by spending Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with your partner’s family, but still making sure you’re in your usual seat for Christmas crackers at dinner time.
Next, make space to have these conversations in a way that doesn’t cause additional stress. That means talking about it in advance and without the pressure of a ticking clock, or talking about it one-on-one away from other members of your family who have their own interests at play. Try grabbing a calming hot drink, sit down in your comfiest clothes and have the conversation with a chilled out playlist on in the background.
And finally, recognise that it’s absolutely okay for you to take control of your Christmas arrangements. You know what’s best for you, and ultimately the people around you will have the best Christmas if they get to spend it with a version of you who’s happy and thriving. So be kind to yourself, as well as to your loved ones.
How much should we spend on Christmas presents?
It’s a familiar Christmas nightmare. You’ve forgotten to align on the Christmas present budget, and now you’ve ended up with front row seats to Hamilton while your boyfriend is stuck with a novelty dachshund mug. Disaster.
In recent polling run by Relate, people identified money worries as being their biggest concern when it comes to potential pressures on their relationships this Christmas. For most people it’s been a tough few years financially, and the holidays can make different spending expectations a major source of tension at the best of times.
The best way around it is, as with most things, with honesty. Having an open and honest conversation about finances and what you can and want to spend over Christmas is by far the best way to ensure equality in your relationship and keep you on the same side. Once you’ve had that conversation, you can work together to set a budget and stick to it. Find out more information on how to manage your finances as a couple.
How do we make sure we each get enough alone time?
Lockdown has led many of us to get pretty comfortable in our own company. So it’s totally normal that the socially buzzing Christmas period might be making you or your partner feel anxious about getting enough time on your own.
We knew there would be countless people across the country struggling with this very issue over Christmas. That’s why we created the Christmas Sanctuary – a place where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the holidays for a quiet meditation, a visit to a wildlife sanctuary, or even some inspiration to make you feel grateful for your own family, as frustrating as they might feel at this very minute.
And if you’re struggling to convince your partner why it’s important for you – and them – to have some alone time this Christmas, send them Relate’s list of 80 relationship tips and ask them to count how many involve making sure each partner has a thriving solo life. At the very least it will give you ten minutes to take a breath while they read through it.
With all the busyness surrounding Christmas, we often don't get the chance to stop and take the time to really focus on enriching our romantic relationships.
That's why this year, we’ve created a relationship advent calendar that's delivered straight to your inbox to encourage you to find small moments with your loved ones this festive season.
How we can help
If you’re looking for support with your relationships, we can help. We offer a range of ways to speak with a trained relationship expert including ongoing counselling, 30 minute web and phone chats, and one session therapy.
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