How to avoid holiday stress on your relationship


Holiday stress can strain any relationship. Sometimes there's so much pressure to have a great time that you make yourselves miserable. But it doesn't have to be that way. Family therapist Rachel Sussman shares her advice for how to avoid letting holiday pressures affect your relationship.

How to avoid holiday stress on your relationship The holidays can add so much more onto our plates that the stress of shopping, preparing, parties, and family affects our relationship. Rachel has several tips to avoid holiday stress on our relationships:
  • Don't worry about making everything "perfect." Relax! Communicate with your partner about the kind of holiday you want--make it special for each other rather than trying to live up to others' expections.
  • If you feel embarrassed by something your partner has done at a holiday party (or vice versa): be grounded and gracious as possible. Try not to let nerves or alcohol influence your behavior towards someone you love.
  • Work together as a couple during the holidays. Don't let either of you bear all of the burden of planning. Make it fun and remember not to take it all too seriously.

DENISE: Hi there, I’m Denise Richardson for howdini. We’re now going to talk about relationships and the holidays…how stressful both of those things can be. We’re fortunate to have with us a relationship expert. Her name is Rachel Sussman and she is a person who sees all kinds of couples and guides them through all kinds of times. Thank you for being with us. Christmas is a special time; we’ve taken the special out of Christmas. The planning and the gift giving. Talk a little about the stress on people as a result of the holidays because of marketing.

RACHEL: Holidays are very stressful for most people, but with all the marketing that’s gone into it over the past several years and so much pressure on having a perfect holiday, a perfect Christmas, and the perfect gifts, perfect children, and perfect relationship. Plus, everyone’s working. You still have to go to your job everyday and then around the holidays there’s shopping, there’s preparing, there’s just so much stress. Parties, we’re drinking more, we’re eating more, we’re sleeping less, maybe exercising less and taking less care of ourselves. So we’re stressed out to begin with. Now add to that you’ve got to be present and wonderful in your relationship. It’s a recipe for a lot of problems.

DENISE: There’s so many parties over the holidays and you take your special person to the party and they embarrass you. It can be a female doing the embarrassing, it can be a male doing the embarrassing. How do you handle the situation.

RACHEL: These situations happen at a lot of different parties and especially when alcohol’s involved and people are nervous. And here you are, you’re in front of your colleagues, might be trying to impress people, you bring your partner to a party and perhaps, unfortunately, they’re the brunt of a bad joke or maybe you get a little loud and abusive because you’ve had too much to drink and again, you know, very complicated, very difficult situation. And you know, I think the partner just has to be as grounded and gracious as possible being that it’s not their work setting and you don’t want to make things any worse than they are. But, I think you really have to wonder if you want to be in that relationship or is that a healthy relationship or if your partner is a healthy person if they’re going to treat you that way.

DENISE: How do you tell people to opt out of the scenario of “I’ve got run and shop, I’ve gotta get this great gift…I’ve gotta, gotta, gotta…” How do people step back from it so they don’t get stressed during the holidays?

RACHEL: Well, when I’m working with couples and it’s so clear to me that they’re stressed out and it’s the holidays and there is so much going on, I really tell them to just chill out, sit back, to try to remember what the holiday’s really about and if they don’t know what the holiday’s really about, this is an opportune time to create a new tradition with a new family—your own tradition. What do the holidays mean to you? And how as a couple or as a family can you celebrate it in a really joyous and healthy way.

DENISE: You know the aphrodisiac of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving for couples: let me be up at 6 AM so I can start shopping. It’s like the energy is towards—you’ve gotta do it or you’re not “worthwhile.”

RACHEL: Or you’re not worthwhile or other people are doing it better than you, or you know a lot of women think they can do everything and work. They can buy beautiful gifts and have a beautiful holiday supper. But, it can tend to be too much and that’s when couples need to sit back and talk to each other. How can they really help each other out and minimize the stress over the holidays. You know it actually is a fun time.

DENISE: So when this holiday season comes about you’re really working towards something together.

RACHEL: Yeah, you’re on the same page and you’ve got to have the communication skills so that if you’re not on the same page, someone calls a meeting and comes in and says, you know what, this isn’t what the holidays is supposed to be about, you know, I’m stressed out, you’re stressed out. No one’s enjoying this. Let’s sit back and figure this out and try to do it the right way this year.

DENISE: Or go see Rachel Sussman.

RACHEL: Absolutely!

DENISE: Thank you so much for being with us.

RACHEL: Thank you Denise.

DENISE: I’m Denise Richardson for howdini.

meet theexpert
  • Rachel Sussman LCSW

    Rachel Sussman LCSW Marriage and Family Therapist Rachel Sussman, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and marriage/family therapist. She has helped people improve their emotional well being, enhance their ability to engage in interpersonal relationships, and take control of their lives. more about this expert »

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