Winter doesn’t just take a toll on our morning commutes (and skin). It can also send our relationships into a tailspin for more reasons than one.
“Tensions can be high around the holidays,” explained Toronto relationship therapist Kimberly Moffit.
She says existing issues in a relationship can be amplified by external pressures this time of year, like family obligations and expectations at work during “year-end.”
Our stress levels can spike when we take on more responsibilities than we would normally, sexologist Jessica O’Reilly told Camille Ross last year, adding this particularly rings true for women.
Couples therapist Carlen Costa adds the holidays are also a time when we tend to review the past year, including the people we’ve surrounded ourselves with and how fulfilled we feel.
Unfortunately, sometimes we may not like what we see.
“The holidays can be a harsh reminder for some people of things that have happened,” Costa said.
January is a peak month to break up with your job, as well as your partner.
The first Monday back from the holidays has even been dubbed “Divorce Day” in Great Britain, as Global News reported last January.
Lawyers’ offices apparently get flooded with inquiries from unsatisfied individuals who may have held off a split just long enough so as not to ruin Christmas for the whole family.
Psychologist Nicole McCance told reporter Peter Kim at the time that some people just realize they “can’t bear going through a whole year” of whatever’s been making them unhappy.
It’s not just the holiday stress…
Something as simple as the weather change can also push an already-fragile union over the brink, according to Costa.
“People are more likely to experience things like mood disorders and depression because of the change in the weather — especially if you aren’t eating a very balanced diet and making sure your vitamin [D] levels are correct.”
That can “totally” have a trickle-down effect on the state of your union, she cautions.
So if your relationship dissatisfaction seems seasonal (i.e. it always rears its head this time of year), Costa recommends paying a visit to your family doctor, a naturopath or a counsellor.
How to survive the holidays as a couple
A relationship “check-up” can also help, says O’Reilly. Sometimes a therapist might be able to pinpoint the underlying issue that’s causing friction in your relationship in as little as a session.
Here are three other tips from her that can help keep relationships afloat during this potentially stressful season.
1. Cancel 10 per cent of your plans
From shopping for gifts to baking and hosting, think about what you can trim from your schedule.
“We all overbook ourselves,” O’Reilly said. “We over-commit. We have too much on our plate.”
2. Do not sacrifice sleep or exercise
O’Reilly explains exercise will reduce your stress levels and help you sleep.
That extra shut-eye can boost your libido and improve your compassion for your partner.
3. Talk finances
“Sometimes we interpret our partner’s spending habits,” O’Reilly said, “‘Why do you want to spend so much… why are we spending more on my parents and not your parents?'”
She recommends talking about all that ahead of time and not being so quick to get insulted if you and your partner have different views on gift-giving.
She and her husband forgo gifts altogether and put that money towards spending a fun day together.
That kind of gift is more likely to be memorable anyway, according to psychology professor Tom Gilovich of Cornell University. He’s spent more than 12 years studying thousands of people and the kinds of gifts they prefer.
“People take their most significant experiences and embed them in their narratives much more than their material goods,” he told us last year.
“Ultimately, we are the sum total of our experiences.”
O’Reilly’s final piece of relationship advice, though, is just to make time for each other during all the holiday chaos.
“Escape time to that mistletoe if you can. Plan time alone.”
— With files from Peter Kim, Global News