From deciding whose family to spend which holidays with, to the pressure of giving your partner the perfect gift, to all of those extra obligations, it can cause relationship conflict for a lot of couples.
In order to make it to the new year with your partnership intact, set a goal to understand and process the stress you are both experiencing together. The idea is to work through the relationship conflict—instead of letting the holiday stress tear you apart.
Relationships are composites. For many couples, there is not any single fight or incident that can’t be repaired. They want to fix things, but are often just stressed and in their own way. However, conflict is not resolved overnight—and certainly not in the heat of the moment. Instead, it is best to stay calm and create some emotional distance from the issues. Then, you and your partner can process everything and be more objective without escalating things.
Because this is easier said than done, I’ve created a simple five-step process to resolve the inevitable relationship conflict during the holiday season and throughout the year.
Couple’s Guide to Reducing Holiday Stress:
Step 1: Share how you felt during the incident without blaming your partner.
Feelings statements like, “I felt sad when you ignored my text,” can help to keep the conflict from worsening. Always, always, talk to your partner using “I feel” statements when bringing up conflict. Starting off with “You…” immediately activates defensiveness.
Step 2: Take turns speaking and really listen to each other.
It takes two to tango, and it takes two to argue! To practice active listening, summarize and validate your partner’s view by showing that you can understand his or her perspective. Note: Validating people doesn’t mean agreeing with them, it simply means that you heard them. If you both feel understood, a productive conversation can happen. Now to step three.
Step 3: Recognize your holiday stress triggers.
To have a productive conversation, share exactly what caused your strong physiological or emotional response. Consider your past. See if you are relating to your partner in the present moment or if you are projecting the wrongdoings of another situation onto your partner. Help your partner understand you and your history, so he or she can be more sensitive to your triggers. Of course, your partner should share personal triggers too.
Step 4: Take responsibility for your part in the argument.
Be honest and consider outside stressors that caused the fighting. Has it been a stressful day or week? If so, were you unfairly taking it all out on your partner? After you have shared the stressors, explain what your contribution was to the argument. If you are genuinely sorry for the role you played and the impact it had on your partner, offer a sincere apology.
Step 5: Give positive feedback.
For a relationship to grow in a healthy direction, both parties must be willing to accept influence and feedback from their partner. You must be open to making changes that will keep your partner feeling safe and happy with your dynamic. This will give both of you an opportunity to communicate what you would like to be different in the future. With a few small tweaks, you can prevent the same escalation from happening again. Take turns suggesting one thing each of you can do to make the discussion of this incident or issue better for next time.
With a mutual commitment to these five tips, you and your partner are on your way to resolving conflict during the stressful holiday season—or any other type of year. A simple action like taking the time to listen to and understand each other can help you avoid the vicious cycles of fighting that damage relationships. And with that, it really is the season to be jolly…