What's a genuine holiday miracle? Making it through the season without a single screaming match with your loved one. "Studies show that this is one of the most stressful times of year for couples," says Los Angeles-based relationship counselor Elizabeth Scott, M.S. We asked the experts how to dodge the most common yuletide dustups.
1. Why did you ditch/cling to me at that party?
"When a quiet type falls for an extrovert, this argument is practically guaranteed," says Scott. "You're both going to have to compromise." Try spending the first and last 30 minutes together. Or agree to hang out until the shy one gives a signal, like a wink, that it's OK to separate. (Are you fighting with your man? This crazy new website will tell you who's right and wrong.)
2. Why do you act like a different person around your family?
"This is called 'revertigo,'" says Scott. "It's when a person transforms back into who they were when they were young as soon as they're around their parents and siblings." If your guy is doing this, chances are he isn't even aware of it. Bring it to his attention gently (ideally, minus the use of terms like "mama's boy"). "Stick to how you feel instead of blaming him for his behavior," Scott advises. "For example, say, 'When you pretend to agree with your family about political views that are different than the ones we share, I feel uncomfortable. What can we do about this?'" Don't expect an overnight transformation, but have hope--these ingrained behaviors can change.
3. And how come we always have to celebrate the holidays with your family, anyway?
"This is probably the biggest season-related issue for couples who are in serious relationships," says family lawyer-mediator Laurie Puhn, author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life. Her advice: "Together make a policy: Maybe you visit his relatives one year and then yours the next. Or you can figure out which holidays are most important to whom and plan accordingly." If there's an occasion that you both really want to spend with your own family, it's OK to split up every once in a while. "Just explain why you're solo so that no one thinks it's because your partner would rather not be around them. It's easy for misunderstandings to get started this way."(Check out these 5 rules for meeting his parents.)
4. Why am I doing all of the shopping?
"In a lot of relationships guys get to stay in kid mode and see the holidays as nothing but fun, while women shoulder all of the responsibility," Scott says. "In the beginning it may be a little exciting that he trusts you to pick out a gift for his mom, but you'll probably wind up feeling resentful." Instead of filling his stocking with coal, Scott suggests, make a list of everyone you're buying for and exactly what you're going to get them, and divvy it up. Even better, spend an afternoon together shopping online.
5. Why don't you ever give me the gift that I hinted at?
If you think his mind-reading abilities will suddenly kick in for the holidays, you're delusional. Hinting is not enough, says Puhn. "Just state what you want," she advises. "When I see something great, I send my husband an e-mail with a link to it and a note like, 'If you want to buy me a gift, I love these earrings.' Getting something I picked out is more thrilling than being surprised with something I hate." What to do if your guy got the message but still opted to surprise you? "Be thankful that he took the time to find a present he thought you'd like--then purchase what you want for yourself." (Find a gift for your man with our What-to-Get-a-Guy Guide: 13 dude-approved holiday presents.)
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