‘Tis the Season for Squabbling: How to Not Get Divorced During the Holidays

The Holidays are all about family and joy and cookies and magic. Right? RIGHT?!? But we all know that twinkly, sugar-dusted magic doesn’t just happen. It’s exhausting and sometimes downright stressful to keep all those holiday balls in the air, even if you’re not trying to manufacture some picture-perfect Rockwellian (or Legendary) holiday. There are endless logistics around decor, gifts, teacher gifts, parties, etc. Then there are family dynamics (er, drama) having to do with in-laws, traveling, visitors, and… did I mention in-laws? Plus, you might even have to bake.

More often than not, there’s one person doing much of the behind-the-scenes work to pull it all off: YOU. If this is the case in your household, it could go one of two ways:

1). Like a cheesy holiday rom-com in which you and your spouse have playful spats for an entire month before rekindling the flame after everyone else has gone to bed on Christmas Eve, or…

2). Your frustration simmers for all of December and then you spend Christmas Eve airing a month’s worth of grievances while trying to assemble a 591-part play kitchen that was definitely designed by a Russian hacker intent on destroying your marriage.

If the second option sounds more like your life (because nobody’s marriage is like a rom-com, except maybe Chrissy and John’s) here are some tips to help you through The Most Wonderful Time of the Year without wanting to injure your spouse with a candy cane lawn ornament.

Make a plan — together.

Sit down with your spouse — and a calendar — to make a list of everything that needs to be done for the holidays. Once you both see the full to-do list and have a sense of all work the other is going to put in, maybe you’ll decide together to skip the elaborate exterior lighting display and instead share the shopping duties. Or maybe you’ll both still want to do it all, but will commit to helping each other out with a few specific duties. Either way, be very clear about who’s doing what, so neither person feels overwhelmed and you both feel supported.

…And a budget.

Budgets are a total bummer, but while you two are getting this boring stuff out of the way, bite the bullet and make a plan for your holiday spending. If you draft a budget together, you’re less likely to argue about money in a week or two. In addition to things like decorations, dinners, travel (and the spa day you totally deserve), decide who you’re going to buy gifts for and how much you’ll spend on each person. If you’re feeling super ambitious, you can even knock out a really specific shopping/gift list.

Put your own little family first.

When you get married you go from having one family to three: yours, your spouse’s, and the one you created together. Yay? This can get especially tricky around the holidays. Will your mother-in-law grumble if you spend Christmas with your parents? Or vice versa? The good news is that it’s perfectly okay to create your very own holiday traditions with your spouse and your kids. Sure, your parents or in-laws may guilt you for disrupting their traditions, but that’s when you remind them that they got to do their own thing when they had small children and now it’s your turn. Plus, if everyone is pissed at both you and your partner, you’re less likely to be pissed at each other. Win-win!

Have sex! Lots of it.

Sex is the easiest (and most fun!) way to quickly reconnect with your partner whether you’re feeling distant, stressed, frustrated, etc. So make the time — even if it’s a quickie.

Create your own secret spouse tradition.

This is something that’s just for you and your partner. It can be a special holiday drink you make up and enjoy together after the kids go to bed, a handwritten holiday letter exchange, or even cheesy Christmas karaoke while wearing ugly Christmas sweaters. Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be on a grand scale – just something that quickly and easily brings you back to each other when you need it most.

Connect for 30 minutes every night. Or 20. Or even 10.

One thing you DO need to do every night is connect, intentionally. No matter how busy you are — and especially on those really busy days — make a point to sit down with your spouse for some uninterrupted one-on-one time. Like, even if you hate him a little that day. Set a timer if you have to, and put your phone out of reach. You’ll both feel better after.

Speak up.

Feeling overwhelmed? Underappreciated? Don’t keep it bottled in. Tell your partner when you need more support. If you made a plan together, and have been connecting regularly, this should be easy. If you don’t speak up, that resentment is just going to snowball and everyone will be miserable.

Outsource the assembly that play kitchen.

Seriously, just pay some handy teenager $50 bucks to do it. Your marriage depends on it.

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Emily Farris lives in Kansas City, MO with her burly husband, toddler son, and two rowdy rescue mutts. She's written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and The Cut. When not busy cleaning up somebody's pee, she's posting about drinks and home decor on Instagram @thatemilyfarris.