How to Navigate the Holiday Season as a Couple

Nora Nova, M.Ed.

Table of Contents

How to Navigate the Holiday Season as a Couple

While the holiday season is often associated with words like joy, happiness and peace, 88% of Americans report feeling stressed.

Some of the biggest stressors include: participating in conversations with family and friends, purchasing presents, and completing long to-do lists.

The most wonderful time of the year doesn’t need to turn to the most stressful - keep reading to learn how you can successfully navigate the holiday season as a couple.

1. Remind each other that you’re on the same team

It’s so easy to focus on all the holiday obligations and to neglect your relationship. However, learning to turn toward your partner during challenging times can benefit your relationship. It can allow you to co-regulate your nervous system, resulting in decreased stress levels. Helping each other can also strengthen your connection, and build confidence in your ability to navigate problems as a couple.

In his book Wired for Love, Stan Tatkin discusses the importance of creating a sense of “we” and what he calls the couple bubble. The couple bubble is a “cocoon” that holds the couple together and provides safety, security and comfort. It also protects the couple from outside elements.

As you’re preparing for the holiday season, remind each other that you’re on the same team and make an agreement that the bubble comes first

2. Identify your biggest stressors

Anyone or anything that intrudes on the couple bubble is referred to as a third. Thirds can be people, things or activities outside of the two of you that undermine your focus on the relationships.

Reflect and identify your biggest thirds during the holiday season. Have you noticed that spending time in your childhood home leads to feelings of anxiety? Or maybe that shopping for gifts adds to your mental load?

3. Create a plan

Once you have identified your thirds, examine how you can protect each other from these outsiders - remember, the bubble comes first!  Share what your partner can do to protect you, and what you can do to protect your partner. You can use this format: I feel ___ when ___ because ___. I would appreciate it if you could ___.

For example, if you identified that your family acts as a third and causes you to experience high levels of stress, you can say “I feel anxious when I’m around my mom because she often criticizes my life choices. I would appreciate it if you could go on walks with me throughout our time at my parent’s house - could we come up with a codeword that lets you know I need a break?” Or if you noticed that it’s emotionally exhausting to plan thoughtful gifts, do the shopping and the wrapping, maybe you can agree that one person will create the list, the other will go to the mall, and both of you will show off your best wrapping skills.

4. Create your own traditions

Celebrate and nourish your couple bubble by exploring what’s actually important to the two of you and create your own holiday traditions that you’re excited to honor! Maybe you want to start buying an ornament every time you travel, or have a movie-marathon night when you watch your favorite holiday films, or have a moment of reflection when you share your most special memories. It doesn’t matter what you come up with, or how big or small the tradition is - as long as it’s yours!

You can ask each other the following questions to help guide your discussion:

  • What do the holidays mean to you?
  • What are you most looking forward to during the holiday season?
  • Is there a tradition from your family of origin you would like to continue?
  • Is there a  tradition that you always wanted to start?
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