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Relationship Tips for the Holidays

By Susan Murphy, Ph.D., MBA

If your thoughts about the holiday season elicit emotions other than pure joy, you are not alone. Stress increases during the holidays and relationships can suffer. Pack your Holiday Toolkit with some new tools this year.

Have realistic expectations and talk about them. The discrepancy between what you expect and what you get causes disappointment. You may expect to experience the “perfect” holiday like you remember from your youth. Your sweetheart may dread holidays and expect festivities to be ruined just like they were with an unpredictable, alcoholic father at home.  Display empathy for one another.

Make a holiday plan. The saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” applies here. Include your sweetheart as you plan where you’ll spend the holidays, whom you will see, who gets gifts and holiday budget. Couples who have clearly defined roles are often happier, so together decide what needs to be done and who will do it. Practice gratitude, not criticism, for the effort expended.

Make memories and create traditions. Develop non-material rituals to express your appreciation and love. Cuddle by the fireplace with champagne, watch a special movie, have breakfast in bed, talk specifics about your gratitude for one another’s greatness. Memories are the ultimate, lifelong gift you can give to each other.

Keep your sense of humor. Charles Handy said, “Never trust someone you haven’t laughed with.” Laughing increases our endorphins, decreases stress, and creates memories and special bonds. When things go wrong, funny memories are made. If your dog grabs the turkey, rather than cry and scream, chase the dog, retrieve the turkey and realize that you’ll enjoy telling that story for many years to come.

Honor differences between men and women. Men and women respond differently to stress. When men feel stress, the normal response is “fight or flight.” However, stressed women secrete the hormone oxytocin that drives them to want to be close to others, a response called “tend and befriend.” Be empathetic to your partner and know that you will respond differently in stressful, holiday situations. Additionally, women often prefer to multitask, so chaos may not be as stressful for them. Men, however, often prefer doing one thing at a time and forcing them to multitask may increase their stress level, triggering their “fight or flight” desire.

Another difference is that men are often more direct while women tend to be indirect. One male client reported that his marriage was severely damaged during their first holiday season. His wife had suggested that they not exchange gifts so they could save money for a house. He took her literally at her word and did not buy her a gift. She bought him a gift. She has never forgiven him because she believes he should have known that couples always exchange gifts at holidays!

Remember, holidays are about nurturing our relationships. Celebrate your love and make time for each other.

Dr. Susan Murphy is a best-selling author, coach and speaker who specializes in relationships, conflict, leadership and goal-achievement. Dr. Murphy can be reached at and (760) 674.1615.

2 Responses to “Relationship Tips for the Holidays”

  1. Johanna O'Flaherty, PhD says:

    Good article and gentle advise from Dr. Murphy. Dr. Murphy is the quintessential coach and relationship advisor. Looking forward to more articles.

  2. Dr. Susan Murphy says:

    Thank you, Dr. O’Flaherty, for commenting on my article. I’m so glad you found this article to be helpful & I appreciate your comments about my coaching advice!

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