I have written a number of posts on holiday challenges including Valentine’s Day and Christmas. I suggest that folks review these posts in the next week. My clinical observation and I think this is a pretty obvious observation, is that holidays often intensify couples conflict. It’s a bit like the flu season. Exposure to germs is a guarantee; whether you come down with the illness is more related to your immune system and what precautions you have taken to protect yourself. In short, Holiday Seasonal Disorder (aka HSD) is very contagious. It is easy for one spouse to pass it on to another. Whole families have it.
How does a couple know that they have it? The symptoms are: mounting anxiety; increased spats; uncontrollable upsurge of memories of holidays past – the not good kind; incessant comparisons between childhood holidays and adult holiday experiences; mounting concerns re: partner’s or family members’ behaviors – who will drink too much or will the political dialogue devolve into chaos again; obsessive ruminative activity related to perfectionistic standards.
Add travel and money concerns and children’s behaviors – if you have a special needs child or relative (check my other blog site) – and the Coupledom pot can boil over in steamy exchanges and regretful behaviors.
Some are inclined to use the holiday season to evaluate the merits of their marital relationship. Though tempting and possibly irresistible, this is a very bad idea. You may think it but try not to buy into it. That would be the equivalent of determining the quality of a chef based on a meal prepared during a power blackout. Instead, the wise couple can set aside an hour or two in the weeks prior to the holiday, review any concerns, identify conflicts, and collaborate on locating a third option if they find themselves at odds over two opposing solutions. There is always a third option to handle anticipated stressors. And it may require thinking out of the box. This is often very frightening to families deeply bound by tradition and may make members feel disloyal even to consider a change or modify the revered traditions. But marriage creates a new family and traditions carried through the decades may need tweaking for the future health and loyalty to that “new family.”
It may sound simplistic – dismissed as suggestions fashioned only for the “ideal” Coupledom, but in fact, it is a rational and worthy exercise. Have the conversation once and then again and again until you both feel heard and supported and have strategies in place for the most daunting tasks at hand. And read my article on Christmas, Bracing for Santa: Holiday Performance Anxiety and The Coupledom.
Another recommendation that may sound optimistic – but is critical to the future health of your marriage – speaks to the upside of a rough holiday season. Use the experience as a window into what areas of the relationship could use attention and work. If ugly words are exchanged on the security check-in line at JFK or snippy digs pile up on discarded Christmas wrapping, don’t panic. Instead of regrettable behaviors being denied, dismissed or blamed on another, out them and own them and go for help to end them. Now is the time to get some help so these holiday demons don’t lead to future holidays spent apart – with a family divided, saddled by costly double household expenses, and future holiday pleasure reduced to traumatic exchanges about who gets Christmas Eve and who gets Christmas Day.
So Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Happy New Year. Healthy Happy is what I am aiming for here.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., 2017
Photo Credit: Hepp/iStock.