Is it time to devote some attention to your relationship these holidays?
The holidays are often a stressful time for people, but it’s easy to forget this once they arrive. If you’re in a relationship, you may find yourself getting frustrated with your partner for no particular reason, or you notice you’re fighting more than usual. These feelings are actually common.
You may have less time to spend with your partner, greater financial obligations, and more social demands than at other times of the year. But you can use the holidays to improve your relationship, by making small but meaningful efforts together and separately.
1. Schedule one-on-one time
During the holidays, you might be low on free time and energy and possibly depressed by runaway consumerism. This is exactly why it’s good to schedule time alone with your partner. You don’t have to go out, or spend money—just make a fancy dinner, eat with the television off, and talk with each other. Relationships thrive when communication is healthy.
Communicating well creates safety and clarity between you and your partner and builds a solid foundation for you relationship. You can’t do this if you don’t make time for it.
If you decide to go out, leave the kids with a relative and do something romantic together. There are lots of holiday activities (many of them free) to try. Walking around to look at light displays, seasonal concerts, and wine tastings are a few ideas.
2. Take time out from family commitments
Family commitments are certainly important, because kin groups are how we organise our societies, and the holiday season is the time most families decide to get together. But don’t let them cause you anxiety, or chip away at your relationship.
You can pick a few family events and tactfully pass on the rest. “I’m overworked and need to spend a quiet night at home” is a valid excuse during the holidays, or any other season. If you find that your partner is really not enjoying spending time with your side of the family, give them a pass. Family gatherings are great, until they’re not.
And if you find that family commitments are unpleasant because of one relative in particular, limit the time you spend with that person. It’s fine to make an appearance at an event, take some photos to prove you were there, and gracefully slip out.
3. Schedule sex and make time for intimacy
Although this tip makes some people roll their eyes at what they perceive as the boring life of monogamists, scheduled sex can revive a faltering connection and maintain a healthy one.
When you and your partner choose a time for intimacy, ideally at least once a week, you consciously make a space for your sex life, which is very important for the lifeblood of the relationship.
Maybe you or your partner are having a hard time initiating intimacy—setting a time takes that pressure away. You get to think about your evening together while running bland errands or sitting through another meeting, and that’s a benefit of monogamy. And, if you’re feeling worn out by holiday obligations, scheduled sex may relieve that tension too.
4. Deal with conflict with respect and fight fair
This point is relevant for relationships all the time, but especially critical during periods of stress. Relationships can survive fights, and grow stronger through them, but only if they’re fair. Bring up the issue that’s troubling you with your partner at an appropriate time that’s good for you both. Only raise this issue, and stay focused on it—bringing other drama in will confuse the conversation and can lead to emotional blowouts.
Start the communication at the right time, and softly—nobody likes to be ambushed and accused. Asking open-ended questions allows your partner to look deeper at their side of the issue, and leaves room for compassion (instead of just blame). ‘What’, ‘how’ and ‘when’ questions are good—‘why’ is harder for someone to answer, and can derail the process.
There are a number of things you can do to avoid setting yourself up for a win-lose dynamic and communication problems in your relationship. Everyone has a storyline, and the ego wants this narrative to be right, at the expense of the other person’s. A healthy, loving relationship means you’re willing to lay down your need to be right, and really listen and understand where your partner is coming from.
Curiosity can help resolve a conflict that would otherwise end in screaming, tears or other forms of aggression. Curiosity serves to pause reactivity and defensiveness, increase the information you’re receiving on an issue, demonstrate to your partner that you care about their feelings and thoughts, and calm a volatile exchange.
5. Take time away from your devices so you can connect
Never before in human history have there been so many ways to be distracted. Smart phones are great, they help us navigate, photograph the world, and order take away, but they also steal our time. If you find you’re spending hours in the evening watching the television, browsing news on your phone, or playing a computer game—burning time that used to go to your partner or family—you might want to examine this behaviour. What is drawing you to your device, and away from your partner? Was it a conscious choice, or did you just start using your phone a little more every day?
Not only do backlit devices keep you and your partner suspended in your own separate realities, they also interfere with your sleep, if used an hour or less before bedtime. Talk to your partner about taking a weekend off from your devices to connect with each other, in this reality.
Through implementing at least one of these simple tips might make the holidays a little brighter for your relationship this year.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.