The festive season is finally here, and while we’re thrilled to be on holiday at last, this time of year can take its toll.
It’s meant to be a time of celebration and good cheer, but with all the demands on your time and energy thanks to social engagements and family commitments, it can also be quite stressful.
Here’s our guide to helping your relationship survive the holidays, whether you’re a new couple on your first getaway, newlyweds navigating the in-laws or just having a staycation.
The new couple
You’ve wined and dined, met each other’s friends and already started to think of baby names. But there’s one relationship hill you still have to climb: travelling as a couple for the first time.
Yes, taking a trip together can cause turbulence of the fasten-your-seatbelt kind. There’s airport or bus traffic, staying in a strange place, paying for holiday meals, packing, checking, stressing...
Don’t say: I thought you were making the hotel booking!
Do say: Just think – this time tomorrow we’ll be chilling on the beach!
Meeting the parents
Introducing bae to the people who raised you is tough at any time – but doing it during the holidays certainly piles on the pressure! Because that nosy aunt who asks all kinds of questions will be staying over and that uncle who talks too much after a few festive drinks will be there for lunch on Christmas Day – not to mention that cousin who’s just an annoying brat. All this could have your significant other wondering whether this is a family they want to be part of.
Then there’s the matter of sleeping arrangements, cultural rules and traditions and whether they need to be observed – a potential minefield for everyone involved.
Whether you’re meeting the parents or boo is meeting your family, the trick is to present a united front and plan ahead. And lay off the PDA – it’ll just be easier!
Don’t say: Dibs on the guest bedroom with the double bed!
Do say: Thank you so much for inviting me into your lovely home.
Goodwill can be in short supply when you’re juggling family visits over the Christmas holidays.
When you’re dating, it’s fine for couples to spend the holidays with their respective families. But once you’ve tied the knot, working out what to do should ideally be a team effort – and it should preferably be done well before family and friends start trying to pin you down.
Whether you decide to visit one family on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas Day, or alternate between families if serious travelling is required, compromise is key.
Don’t say: We always go to your mom’s house!
Do say: I hope your mom’s making that delicious pudding again!
The best way to handle anything regarding money in your relationship is to talk about it openly and honestly – and well ahead of time.
Discuss how much you’re budgeting for a trip and agree on who’s paying for what. “Discussing a budget early on will help set expectations and leave less room for disappointment or confusion later,” says Heather Ebert, relationship expert at dating site MissTravel.com.
Don’t say: Great – so it’s Januworry to Julyworry for me this year!
Do say: Let’s talk about our budget, babe.
That annoying relative
There’s always that one person at family get-togethers who starts ranting about something or other – the government, crime, inflation – and just goes on and on.
“Don’t act surprised when family members act as they do every year,” psychologist Ramani Durvasula says.
She suggests side-stepping the same tired old arguments by having a list of reasonably neutral go-to topics to talk about, such as sports or TV shows, and a ready excuse that will allow you “to slide away from these folks”.
If you know the person in question is at a gathering and you’re likely to lose your cool, make a pre-emptive strike.
When you arrive, apologise in advance to your host and the gathering that you have to leave early due to another social engagement or whatever you choose as your reason for ducking out a little early. That way it won’t seem like a reaction to a conversation or a person, says Durvasula. If you can’t do that, find a space inside or outside the house to cool off.
Couples need to have each other’s back in these situations, so decide on an emergency signal beforehand. “Create a ‘help-me’ word or phrase to let your partner know you’d like to leave so they can interject and steer you away,” family therapist Michelene Wasil suggests.
Don’t say: No, no, let me tell you what’s wrong with what you’re saying...
Do say: My word, is that the time already?
The best-laid plans
Holidays are great, but they also require a fair bit of admin. Which one of you does the planning and organising can be a hot button for a couple.
If you like having or doing things a certain way, be upfront about it so you both know what’s what.
Maybe you’re particular about how close your accommodation is to restaurants and other attractions, or you prefer bed-and-breakfast places to self-catering ones.
Whatever it is, decide who’ll be making various arrangements and make your preferences known.
And when things go wrong, don’t keep quiet about it.
“Share your thoughts or concerns right away – don’t wait until the end of the trip,” relationship therapist Irina Baechle warns.
“Otherwise it will bottle up really fast and might manifest itself in a much bigger and unnecessary argument.”
Don’t say: Nothing. No, nothing’s wrong. I’m fine. Stop asking me that!
Do say: I was really looking forward to a room with a sea view
The depth and breadth of your love might put Romeo and Juliet to shame, but even so, you’re not both going to love all the same stuff.
If boo is expecting your trip to be all about climbing mountains and exploring caves, but you’re looking forward to lazy beach days, somebody’s likely to be disappointed – and quite possibly even grumpy – about it.
The answer is to plan and be prepared to compromise, travel blogger Jennifer Dombrowski says.
“For instance, you tell your partner you’ll go with them to something they want to do if they do a new activity with you.
Don’t say: Urgh, another museum?
Do say: Sure, and how about we hit the beach afterwards?
Getting carried away
Even if you’re not going out of town over the festive season, the temptation to splurge is strong over the holidays.
If you’re lucky enough to receive a December bonus, don’t get carried away. Decide how much you’re going to spend on gifts, outings and entertainment – and stick to it.
Before you know it, it will be the middle of January and you don’t want to be stressing about how you’re going to make it to the end of the month.
Don’t say: It’s the holidays! We deserve nice stuff!
Do say: We don’t have to blow all our cash to have a good time.
It’s a busy time of year and you’re spending more time together than usual, so it’s hardly surprising if tensions sometimes flare up or things go a little haywire. Understand that misunderstandings happen and don’t let them ruin your holiday.
Take time out to do your own thing (see below) so you can get some headspace.
Then focus on the good stuff about being together, author Kelly Hayes-Raitt says. “Focus on creating shared memories. Even the ‘bad’ stuff can be something to laugh about when you get home, if you’re away.”
Even if something goes wrong, appreciate the bigger picture and try to enjoy it, health and wellness expert Caleb Backe says.
Don’t say: I wish I was back at work already!
Do say: At least your boss isn’t here!
Giving each other space
As much as you love your partner, don’t forget it’s your holiday too. You don’t have to spend all your time with bae, the kids, the family, your friends.
It’s all about relaxing, after all. If you’re chilled, your partner will feed off your positive energy.
But the reverse is also true – if you’re stressed, tired and grumpy, that negative energy will affect them too.
So take time out for yourself, whether it’s treating yourself to a spa treatment, a movie or even just a coffee by yourself while you read that book you can’t wait to get stuck into.
Don’t say: But it’s the holidays! Why do you want to do stuff without me?
Do say: Enjoy it, babe – you deserve it!