The silly season is here, and if you feel tension increasing between you and your partner, you’re not alone.
A Relationships Australia survey of 1900 people found that couples face high levels of stress over the Christmas period, which can lead to increased arguments and relationship break-ups.
One third of respondents surveyed indicated their relationships were 'negatively affected' during the holiday season due to work/life balance and high financial stress.
A recent study from the University of Washington mimics this finding with divorces peaking after significant holiday periods, such as Christmas or their summer break. An analysis of 10,000 Facebook statuses also showed break-ups at an all-time high directly before or after Christmas.
“Christmas time holds a mirror up to couples."
Elisabeth Shaw, clinical director for Relationship Australia NSW, says Christmas can heighten the feeling of alienation and add pressure to an already strained relationship.
“Christmas time holds a mirror up to couples,” Shaw tells SBS.
“Rather than saying, ‘it’s been a tough time, let’s just a nice time together,’ couples may think, ‘I don’t think I can face it because of everything we have been through together’.”
But despite the increase in pressure couples face, she says there are some practical ways to get through the period.
Don't sweat the small stuff
Relationship coach and author Cathryn Mora says couples should lower their expectations around the perfect Christmas and instead focus on spending quality time together. Her 12 days of Kiss-mas campaign focuses on giving non-material gifts called “love values” each day to a partner. A love value can be something like a hug or kiss.
“People focus too much on the material possessions. 'Love values' are the things that will help sustain your relationship more than a pair of socks or perfume,” Mora tells SBS.
Shaw says couples should set realistic goals for Christmas; “transfer your high expectations into acts of small kindness. Ask each other, ‘what are the small things we can do to make this a lovely time? This could be as simple as being nice to each other or spending time together watching a movie’.”
“People focus too much on the material possessions. 'Love values' are the things that will help sustain your relationship more than a pair of socks or perfume."
Discuss money early
One of the biggest stresses around the holiday season is financial pressure and spending big on presents. According to a survey by Society one Australians are forecast to spend $8.8 billion on presents this year; half of which will be on credit or store cards and take more than three months to repay.
Shaw says early communication is key to avoid financial stress. “One partner might have a relaxed attitude to spending. Talk about what Christmas means to you before you go shopping and what you need and want. Nobody wants to be a Scrooge but you don’t want to over give either.”
Mora advises that parents also bring kids into the conversation and talk about what is important for your family:
“It’s about managing expectations of your family want and what you can afford,” Mora adds.
“Everything doesn’t need to be bigger and better and more perfect. I have a friend who has a two present limit for her kids, one small and one medium and you know what, children can get excited about the little things.”
“One solution is to not go to either family on Christmas day, instead go to both on Boxing Day or Christmas Eve."
Put your relationship first
Deciding where to spend Christmas and with which family is a common argument says Mora, especially adding far-flung locations and conflicting family members to the mix:
“Nothing says you have to have Christmas with family on that day, [December 25]. One solution is to not go to either family on Christmas day, instead go to both on Boxing Day or Christmas Eve.
“I know a local family here, who are just going to the beach and eating prawns together because they just want to have a relaxing day.”
But if you are having Christmas with the extended family, setting limitations can make you feel more relaxed and in control says Shaw.
“It’s about self-control, rather than control over others, because we can’t do much about others,” adds Shaw. “As a couple you could agree to leave by three, or decide not to do all the cooking and instead ask others to bring food.
“Just ask each other, ‘wow can we protect our relationship and stop things from getting out of hand?’ and ‘what can we do to get through it’?”
If you are experiencing relationship difficulties this holiday season, contact Relationship Australia.