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How to Strengthen your Relationship Amid Holiday Stress

By Christina Pay, Extension Assistant Professor

Holiday stress

Expectations of the holiday season often ignite an atmosphere of anticipation in regards to love, joy and family. Though these expectations may shine brightly, the demands of work, family, and friends may also usher in a season of stress for couples making this a challenging time of year.

According to the American Psychological Association,44% of women and 31% of men said their stress levels were higher than normal during the holidays.  Additionally, another study conducted by OnePoll found that 88% of Americans report feeling stressed during celebrations of the holidays and that the average couple will have seven arguments during the season.  How can couples alleviate this stress and make the holidays a time to strengthen their relationship?

The Gottman Institute suggests that when couples do small acts of service for each other and engage positively and intentionally they build an emotional bank account, or, “emotional savings that can give them a sense of peace and security when they go through hard times.” This  creates a stabilizing and resilient protection from the negative effects of stress and conflict. There are a variety of ways to make deposits into your emotional bank account.

  1. Plan a Date for Just the Two of You.  Amid the flurry of celebrations make time to spend time together alone. Get a babysitter, put the phones and other devices away, this is time for just the two of you.  Research shows that couple-time contributes to a high-quality relationship with less chance of divorce.  Other benefits include deeper commitment, better communication, and sexual satisfaction.
  2. Serve Others Together.  Whether it is shopping, wrapping, and delivering gifts anonymously for a needy family or visiting an elderly neighbor, doing service together creates new memories and bonds you in a unique way.  Service offers its own benefits, as well, such as a deeper connection to others, lower stress levels, and improved mental, physical and emotional health.
  3. Create a Couple Tradition.  Make this one that is uniquely yours. Whether it's watching the same movie each year, hanging a special ornament on the tree together, or taking a walk in the snow together, a “couple tradition” helps to make memories that you’ll look back on and will enrich your relationship with joy.
  4. Give an Unexpected Gift or Gesture.  According to research, most people appreciate the gift-giver more when gifts are unexpected. He may have asked for a new hammer, but what if you brought him breakfast in bed?  Whether it is a sweet note tucked under her pillow or washing the car without telling him, be thoughtful and creative in words, gestures and gifts.
  5. Be Gentle and Kind.   Remind yourself that your partner may be feeling stressed, exhausted and emotional.  Don’t let the stress overtake your relationship.  Take a step back and be the kind and gentle support you each need during stressful times.
  6. Be Proactive.  There is a critical question that, according to author Maura Kelly, has the potential to turn around the whole holiday season for you and your partner, “What can I do to make this a special holiday for you?”  Then follow through.

Additional Resources