For many people, Christmas is a confusing time for their relationship.
We can find ourselves drowning in adverts and images carrying the idea of joy, love and happiness; and yet, I see many couples and individuals who talk about becoming more stressed the closer they get to the festivities and about having more arguments or “silent” days with family and loved ones.
People long for the warmth and togetherness conveyed to them by the idea of Christmas, but the reality seems to be far from this. They are afraid that, after the “Christmas aura” is gone from the streets and shopping windows, they will see that they actually missed what they longed for: connection, togetherness and the cosy feeling of intimacy with their spouse or partner.
It is no coincidence that statistics of divorce filings show a spiked increase soon after Christmas.
So what is happening? Why are these longings so often unfulfilled when it seems that the idea of love and connection permeates the spirit of this time of year? Why, rather than encouraging connection, relationships seem to grow apart?
Preparing for the celebrations and fulfilling family duties or any other expectations amidst the pressures of finishing work projects on time and hunting for interesting gifts can all result in becoming overwhelmed and stressed. But what happens next?
When you feel overwhelmed and stressed you might withdraw into a shell becoming more distant from your family or partner, or you might be more easily irritated and end up pushing them away. Instead, it would be more helpful to seek to share how you feel with your partner in a direct, emphatic manner and ask them for comfort in a way that meets your needs. This can be done in casual, everyday moments.
For example, after coming back home you could say: “I feel so tense today. I need half an hour by myself on a sofa before I can really be with you”, or “I’ve been feeling stressed all day and I just need a cuddle from you”. This in turn gives your partner an opportunity to hear what is happening for you and increases the chances that your needs will be met, while fostering the emotional connection between you and your partner at the same time.
Now imagine a different situation: your partner is coming back home, and after an automatic kiss and simple exchange of “How are you? I’m fine, thank you.”, they sit on a sofa and stare at a TV, computer or phone screen. The other person has no way of knowing what their partner is dealing with, what they need, and sadly, they may end up feeling ignored, pushed away and hurt. In this scenario, both partners rather than regulating each other levels of stress, end up escalating it, even if no arguments ensue.
Another factor that puts strain on relationships in the run up to Christmas is how to share (or not) the preparations associated with Christmas.
Do you hold open conversations about who does what and why it matters to you? Do you share what it feels like when you do not support each other as you agreed? It is crucial to own up your feelings in a non-blaming, open way.
For example you could say: “We agreed that you’d help me with the shopping. When it doesn’t happen, I feel like I don’t matter to you and it hurts”.
You and your partner may be already carrying some “grudges” over how you share everyday responsibilities in your relationship, so accommodating between you preparations for special occasions risks leading to even more aggravation. But you do not need to go down this route.
Be aware of what is going on inside you and ask for help before you become resentful, bitter or annoyed with each other. If you already reached this point, talk about it, but in a way that deescalates the argument. The key is to share how both of you feel and why it matters on an emotional level, and also practical, to have your partner’s support.
The last factor I would like to consider is commonly reported in counselling rooms as a significant hurdle to feeling loved during Christmas.
This is the dissatisfaction from registering either consciously or unconsciously that you are meant to feel happy and together, and yet you realise that this is far from the case. You may then feel an urge to pull away even further from your partner, become annoyed with each other, or completely disengage emotionally and just go through the motions of festive activities.
There is, however, another route to take: by becoming aware of what you need, and allowing yourself to feel what is underneath these reactive feelings of annoyance, withdrawal or disengagement, you can tell your partner about those “softer”, deeper feelings. If you feel too vulnerable to be so open emotionally, you can describe just this to your partner: “I’d like us to be together in a different way, but it’s difficult for me to open up and talk with you about it. Can you help me with this?”
Over the next 24 days I will be sharing on my Facebook page [KamilaKaminskaCounselling] simple ideas how to create moments of emotional connection between you and your partner. They will take no longer than a few minutes a day and will foster a sense of being accessible, responsive and engaged.
Those small moments, if attended to mindfully, are generators of patterns of reaching for and responding to your partner or spouse, especially when you are more stressed and therefore in a greater need of supportive connection.
Love is not just for Christmas: these seeds of reaching out and reaching for each other in the run up to Christmas can transform your relationship beyond the festivities time. In fact, nurturing feelings of safety and emotional connection has the potential to carry both of you into many New Years to come.