It may seem like you're hearing about holiday stress and relationship drama everywhere - with your friends, in the news, and at work. "Lots of anxiety gets created when you're bombarded with these negative messages," says Vagdevi Meunier, PsyD, a certified Gottman Couples Therapist and licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in Austin, TX. "If you start thinking like this, every little thing becomes a fight with your partner. But if you go into the holidays with the attitude that you're both going to have a great time, you'll be much more likely to do so." Follow Dr. Meunier's tips to stay connected and avoid blowups-- even when your mother-in-law tries her best button-pushing tactics.
The holiday fight: You hardly ever see your family, but your husband gets moody when he has to spend the holidays with them, so you end up feeling resentful.
How to avoid it: Though you may want to suck up as much time with your loved ones as possible, don't plan on spending 24/7 with your family if you want to keep the peace in your marriage. "Build in escape time where the two of you can go for coffee, talk, repair and clear the air," says Dr. Meunier. That way, when your husband inevitably says something to your brother that pisses you off, you know you'll have a time to talk it out. This will help you get through the holidays without heaping it all on top of each other at once, and ultimately exploding in front of your family.
The holiday fight: You love traditions, but your husband could care less. You tell him he's taking away from your holiday spirit, but nothing ever changes.
How to avoid it: Research finds that the more you think about your differences, the more you see them. "Make a list of all the things you both agree that you want the holidays to represent," suggests Dr. Meunier. "This starts you off on a positive note to help keep conflict low." For example, tell him how happy it makes you when your brood cuts down a tree each year because it creates memories and helps you bond as a family, something that's important to both of you. He'll be more likely to participate in traditions when he feels appreciated, and like part of the team. "These little rituals of connection can build strong bonds and romance," says Dr. Meunier.
The holiday fight: You and your husband are on totally different pages about gift-giving. He wants to spend big when you're working to pay down debt.
How to avoid it: Make a money date. Since men like to solve problems, ask him if he can help you figure out how to buy thoughtful presents for your list. Then make it fun by asking him to meet you for lunch, and bring your detailed budget and gift wish list. That way, you can give him a say, and stick to your guns about using only the dough you've set aside. Speak about your core money values, and tell him you want your spending to align with them. By having a rational talk in an enjoyable setting, you're more likely to communicate clearly and get closer to being on the same page--and out of the red.
The holiday fight: His mother knows just what to say to push your buttons, and then your husband gets mad at you for losing it on her.
How to avoid it: Before you head to your in-laws for the holidays, let your husband know your triggers (such as critiques of how you raise your kids), and then agree upon a cue that you can give him--such as touching your nose or coughing twice--that signals you're going to blow. That way he can avert a potential conflict by stepping in and saying, "Honey, can you come help me make this thing in the kitchen?" "Having a secret signal brings a couple closer together because you're building a protective wall around your relationship," says Dr. Meunier.
The holiday fight: You feel like you always shoulder the bulk of the holiday duties--from making cookies, to gift shopping, to buying plane tickets--and start to take it out on your husband by getting short.
How to avoid it: It's important to give yourself permission to ask for help, because your husband may not realize what exactly you need him to do. Just start with a positive approach when making a request. Try, "I really want your parents to have thoughtful Christmas presents, but I'm feeling so overloaded right now. Would you mind shopping for them this year? It would be a huge help and I'd feel so much more relaxed." The key is to talk about how you'll divide holiday duties the week before--not when you're in the middle of the madness.