Want your holiday season to stay merry and bright this year? Here’s a basic rule to keep in mind:
Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to the big topics!
By “big topics,” I really mean any issue that has the potential to be a major source of stress for you and your partner. And really, take your pick: between work and social commitments, family schedules, finances, grief (which can surge during this time of year, especially if you’ve experienced a recent loss), and even our own expectations, there are plenty of things that come up during the holidays that can drain us emotionally and strain our relationship.
That said, throughout my career as a licensed marriage and family therapist, I’ve noticed three specific topics—I call them “the three B’s”—that frequently stir up a lot of challenge for couples during the holidays. And in my professional opinion, it is super helpful to discuss and come to an agreement about these three topics before the holidays get into full swing.
The topics are: budgets, boundaries, and booze. Let’s discuss.
Recent survey data collected by the American Institute of CPAs found that as many as three in four American couples cite finances as a major source of tension in their relationship. Given how universal money issues in marriage are, it’s no wonder that the heavily-marketed holiday season is so effective at ramping up this tension to an even greater degree!
Of course, deciding how much of your hard-earned income to spend on holiday gifts, travel, and celebrations can be stressful, but it’s even more stressful when you and your partner aren’t in agreement about your budget. And in worst-case scenarios, a lack of shared financial clarity can lead to deceptive behaviors such as hiding how much you spent on gifts—behaviors which can damage your marriage long after the holidays are over.
So, make a plan. Whether you already have a formal budget or discuss your finances in a more informal manner, sit down together and decide upon how much you’re comfortable spending this year. Be willing to compromise and remember that the best parts about the holidays are usually things that money really can’t buy (like making memories and spending quality time together).
There’s never a time of year when it’s not important to have healthy boundaries in your marriage. But the hustle and bustle of the holidays can easily push our limits, so it’s important to make sure you’re both clear about what is and isn’t acceptable to you as individuals and as a couple.
Here are a few boundary-related issues (in addition to finances and spending) that you might want to discuss with your partner before the holiday season gets into full swing:
- How many social events are we going to attend?
- Which side of the family will we spend the major holidays with?
- What traditions do we want to uphold or create with our children?
Remember, a true boundary is ultimately about your actions that will keep you sane, safe, and healthy. Boundaries are not about controlling other people or telling them how to act. Here’s an example of a boundary you and your spouse might agree upon and then communicate to your parents/in-laws: “We’d love to FaceTime or call you on Christmas, but Christmas morning is a special bonding time for our family only. That means we won’t be answering any phone calls or texts before noon.”
Here’s another example of a boundary that applies to just you and your spouse: “I’m happy to go to your work party with you, but I’m going to drive separately/take an Uber home, since I’m usually ready to leave before you are.”
Most (about two-thirds) of Americans over the age of 18 consume alcohol in any given year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And by all accounts, drinking tends to increase around the holidays.
But while it’s fine to get into the holiday spirit while enjoying some spirits, all of us need to be mindful of how much we drink and how our drinking habits influence not only us but the people around us, too.
Topics about holiday booze consumption that you and your spouse might want to discuss include:
- Who is going to be the designated driver for different occasions
- How much alcohol you’ll consume in social settings (you might agree on a “hard stop,” e.g., no more than X number of drinks)
- The kind of message you’re sending to your children about drinking (e.g., after observing you at a party, would your kids think that you “need” to drink in order to have fun?)
Talking to your loved one about their drinking can be tough, especially during the holidays. If you’re concerned, I recommend approaching this conversation from a place of love and care rather than criticism and judgment.
Are you or a loved one struggling with alcohol? The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. Call 1-800-662-4357 for help now.
Consider the gift of couples therapy this holiday season
Contact Couples Thrive today to schedule a consultation with an experienced licensed marriage and family therapist and get the guidance and support you need to reconnect with your spouse—just in time for the New Year!