How to Handle Relationship Conflict (Holiday Version)


Do you feel even a little bit stressed just reading this blog title?

Holidays can be a stressful time for couples. Stressors such as gift buying, last-minute preparations, and family dinners can all be exhausting and overwhelming. This can often create division in our relationship when overtired or frustrated, and ultimately take away from enjoying our time together. One of the biggest holiday stressors couples face is deciding how they are going to spend the holiday season and with whose family. Does this sound familiar? What is your biggest holiday stressor?

With this in mind, implementing a few practical strategies to best prepare yourself for holiday conversations with your partner can help ease anxiety, stress, and improve how you handle relationship conflict.

4 ways to improve communication with your partner this December

  1. Make a plan and talk with each other first. In our relationships we are all guilty of hearing someone talk to us, but not actually actively listening to what the other person is saying or feeling. Consequently, we then get called out for not noticing certain things during a conversation like desired needs, anxious thoughts, or fears. These conversations happen all of the time and can feel frustrating and hurtful when not heard. Practicing active listening and using this as a helpful tool around making a holiday plan is crucial. It is important for both people to discuss their feelings about holiday plans and expectations. It’s not about being right or wrong, whose family is better, or what you did as a couple the previous year, but it’s about validated and hearing each others concerns, ideas, and emotions felt. Here is another great active listening tool from the book, How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich.

    Your turn: Practice taking turns sharing with each other one thing you feel anxious about this holiday season. Then as the listener, repeat back exactly what you heard, and then try to respond in a validating way like, “I am sorry you are feeling that way, what do you need?” The goal is to address the emotion felt.

  2. Discuss expectations. What is most important for you as an individual and as a couple this season? What are your non-negotiables? Non-negotiables are the things that you absolutely need in order to feel balance. Sometimes there has to be a little compromise to keep that balance going.

    Your turn: Make a list together and individually of the things that are most important to you this holiday season. Then, circle your top three “wishes” for each list. Discuss how these fit in with your holiday expectations and if they can realistically be met. You get to decide as a couple what traditions are important to you.

  3. Set boundaries. Boundaries are about holding to your own values and should be clearly communicated to those the boundary effects. Setting boundaries can be difficult to do, but so helpful when your boundaries are supported by your partner in your relationship.

    Your Turn: Decide as a couple one boundary that you will set regarding your holiday plans. Is it the amount of time spent with the in-laws, the number of commitments you have, dinner parties, kids’ activities, or the amount of money spent on gifts?

  4. Practice mindfulness. What role does mindfulness already play in your relationship? Mindfulness is being aware of your current mental state focusing on current thoughts, feelings, and senses (American Psychological Association). Basically, this has us relying on our present surroundings and refocusing our senses to help reduce anxiety and stress. In this way, we can make this holiday season with our loved one enjoyable. You are in a place of acknowledgment rather than letting your mind wander. Practicing mindfulness in your relationship can encourage closeness, allow you to become more attentive to partner needs, and enhance relationship quality.

    Your turn: Here are a few ways to practice mindfulness this holiday, pick one!

  • Take a 15-minute walk outside together. Pick something out in nature around you  (i.e. Christmas tree, cold air, snow). Focus in on whatever it is using your 5 senses to be fully present in the moment. Don’t forget to take a few deep breaths!

  • Curl up around a fire and share a holiday beverage. Take time to intentionally check in with each other. Think back to this past year, what did you learn or notice about your relationship? How have you grown as a couple?

  • Do an activity together that both of you enjoy (i.e. visit a friend, play a game, read a book, donate your time, exercise together).

This December will be over before we know it. Don’t forget to pause in moments where you feel stressed or overwhelmed. Check-in with yourself and each other often. Practice thankfulness and positive self-talk, and ask for encouragement from your partner if you need it.


Novo Life Counseling // @novolifecounseling

Leanne is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor Associate and Founder of Novo Life Counseling. She is committed to developing a positive and helpful partnership with each client during the therapy process. Working with couples, teens, and adults she is passionate about helping clients find balance and live their life to the fullest. Leanne is an avid adventurer, and enjoys exploring with her husband Drew and baby girl!

Leanne Konzelman, MA, LMHCA