Sisyphus, the infamous character from Greek myths, was eternally condemned to roll a boulder up a hill, only for it to tumble down each time he neared the top. His plight is often cited as a classic case of futile effort, embodying the notion that insanity lies in repeating the same action while expecting a different outcome.
However, couples have the opportunity to break this cycle, particularly during the holiday season. A common ‘boulder’ that many people struggle with is the burden of unrealistic expectations, particularly those we set for others. We often harbor hopes that our romantic partner will surprise us with the ideal gift, that our grown-up siblings will hold back their fart jokes at the dinner table, Aunt Helen won’t bring up politics at dinner, and everyone will get along perfectly—no outbursts or tears.
It might not seem too much to ask, yet akin to Sisyphus’s unending struggle, these expectations rarely reach their desired ‘peak.’ And even if they did, they certainly wouldn’t stay there. But this year can be different for you and your significant other—all it takes is a slight shift in perspective, a sort of mental adaptation, and a redirect of your focus. Don’t be like Sisyphus; if you can’t attain something, it wasn’t meant to be. No holiday celebration is perfect, no matter how much prep and planning goes into it!
Although there is bound to be pressure, we can help you through it if you navigate holiday stress together and even come out better by the time Jan 1 rolls around. Here are tips for building a stronger relationship that withstands Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve!
Fostering Open Dialogue
Importance of Communication: The foundation for any stress-free holiday starts by being able to openly (and honestly) talk about, understand, and acknowledge each other’s expectations, wants, and any concerns about the upcoming holiday season.
Topics of Discussion: Talk about how each of you feels when it comes to any family holiday obligations, how much you want to spend on gifts for each other and for others, and how to honor or mix each of your holiday traditions. This plays a big role in navigating holidays— couples who plan together are already ahead of the game.
Joint Scheduling: This should go without saying, but we are going to say it loud and clear: Sit down and map out your holiday calendar. Not on the night before, oh no; this should be done well in advance! At least a few weeks before the first holiday comes a calling, so there are no crossed wires. This should include all family events, parties, and, of course, any personal traditions you both want to incorporate into the schedule.
Prioritization and Compromise: Hone in on which events or activities are most important to each of you, and be ready to compromise and find a balance that makes both partners happy.
Budgeting: Money issues can quickly escalate holiday stress. Agree on a budget for gifts, decorations, travel, and other expenses. This mutual understanding helps prevent financial strain and disagreements when credit card bills show up.
Creative Gifting Strategies: You may want to consider a few non-traditional gifts, like handmade presents or thoughtful small presents. Not only can these be more meaningful, but they are way less taxing on your finances.
Dividing Tasks: Splitting up holiday-related tasks and to-do’s plays a huge part in reducing stress, so take on responsibilities that are best for each other’s strengths, weaknesses, or preferences.
Collaborative Effort: Whether it’s shopping, cooking, or decorating, working as a team not only lightens the load but can also be made into more fun and less of a “Ugh, we have to do this” when it involves holiday prep.
Merging Cultures and Customs: Couples most likely come with their own unique set of holiday traditions. Finding ways to blend them together is a great way to get closer as a couple and will solidify your bond!
Creating New Traditions: Don’t be afraid to start brand new traditions that are distinctive and special to your relationship! In fact, we encourage this—it creates a personal and shared holiday legacy all your own.
Personal Space Amidst the Bustle: The holiday season can be overwhelming with all of the social and familial commitments, so make sure you both carve out some time to relax together, away from the holiday hysteria.
Setting Boundaries: Boundaries are your friends, so set them with family and friends. This will help you keep some semblance of your privacy and, hopefully, your sanity, reducing potential stressors from outside influences and pressures.
Living in the Moment: Rather than chasing an idealized version of the holidays you have, focus on actually enjoying what is happening around you. Hold on to the genuine moments with your romantic partner that happen during the magical holiday season.
Cultivating Gratitude: Get into a mindset of gratitude towards each other and the time you get to spend together, and let this valuable QT be at the heart of your holiday celebrations.
Professional Guidance: If the stress during holidays brings any underlying issues to the surface, don’t be scared to seek professional help. A relationship counselor can offer tools and strategies to navigate any potential challenges.
Constructive Communication: Couples therapy is a great way to improve communication skills—it helps both partners talk about their needs and concerns with an impartial third party.
The holiday season, though overwhelming and sometimes straight-up chaotic, can be navigated successfully as a couple through thoughtful planning, open communication, and working as a team on all efforts. Remember that the reason for the season is about togetherness, joy, and creating memories with each other; all of these things add up to a stronger relationship in the end!
Facing challenges together, appreciating each other, and not sweating the small stuff will help you both enjoy a more meaningful and much less stressful holiday—it doesn’t have to be a Sisyphean task!