Holiday Stress Management Tips for Newly-Engaged Couples

A psychologist shares tips for how to keep your cool this holiday season.
by Maggie Seaver and Sarah Hanlon
couple in holiday sweaters sitting by the fire
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Holiday stress affects many people, but it's heightened for couples who are integrating their families together for the first time ever. If you're recently-engaged or potentially getting engaged this proposal season (hint, hint), it's no secret the holidays and excess family time can be overwhelming. Add to it the stress of staying with your future in-laws for the first time, anticipating wedding and baby questions from your aunts, and managing a tight budget while gift shopping and you might just explode with all of the emotions you're balancing. Thankfully, there are a variety of resources available to give you holiday stress management tips. Programs like Lasting, a relationship counseling app, and LiveHealth Online, a telehealth app, provide users with professional relationship advice and counseling, so you can effectively manage any type of stress (and during any season of life). Below, LiveHeath psychologist Jennifer Gentile, PsyD, shares the top stressors couples may face, along with her best holiday stress management tips to effectively work through it together. 

The Stressor: Religion, Culture and Traditions

Religion and culture are two major factors that are important to respect around the holiday season. "The first big stressor that's important in any relationship is to understand that each partner comes from a different family culture and way of doing things," Gentile says. If you're spending time at your future in-laws this year, you'll encounter new customs, whether they're cultural, religious or small idiosyncrasies of the family.

How to Deal

This is a time to efficiently communicate with your significant other. According to Lasting, only 14% of couples say that they are very satisfied in how they communicate with their partner—but being open and honest with them is the best way to curb your holiday stress. "It's important for couples to think about what they like to do over the holidays, and what they each think is important," Gentile advises. "A great thing couples can do to help prevent [tension] is to have conversations and figure out what each of their priorities are." 

Beyond having a conversation with your partner, you also have a responsibility on a personal level. "Especially in the infancy of your relationship, it's crucial to be on your best behavior. Certainly be true to yourself and your values, but be respectful of your new family's traditions, even if you don't find it important yourself, it might be important to your in-laws," Gentile adds.

The Stressor: Awkward Questions

If you're newly-engaged and heading into the holiday season, prepare to have the same conversation repeatedly with well-meaning family members. Some will even be awkward, so you'll want to prepare a tactful response. 

"Another common question for couples is, 'When are you going to have children?' Many birth announcements happen around the holidays and it's a common topic, so couples often feel pressure from people asking them about it," Gentile says. What's more, family members will be curious to know details about things like your wedding, your honeymoon, and your newlywed nest. 

How to Deal  

If you want to avoid an awkward conversation over the dinner table, take time to discuss the answers to common questions before you head to any holiday parties. For example, Gentile recommends you ask yourselves, "Are children important to us? Are we thinking next year or are we thinking kids in 10 years?" Having this discussion doesn't mean you have to know exactly when you want to have kids. Instead, it's important to make sure you're both on the same page about how much of your personal life you're willing to share in social settings. 

"Establish what your boundaries are as a couple," Gentile recommends. "Talk about what you want to share and keep private, because every person has a different idea about boundaries." In a way, it's like working on an elevator pitch you can both use when encountering those awkward questions about kids, the wedding, your budget and so on. 

The Stressor: Spending Time With In-Laws

Once you get engaged, you'll likely start to spend more time with your in-laws, which could add to your holiday stress. Every family dynamic is different, so you could experience any number of tensions or discomforts.

How to Deal

Getting a new family isn't always a breeze, but Gentile encourages her clients to practice empathy and patience, especially during the holidays. "One thing that can help is to have what we call increased empathy, which builds patience, especially when dealing with tricky in-laws," she says. "Help garner empathy and increase patience by having some gratitude. Be thankful for them and be grateful to them for raising such a great person (your partner!)." 

It's also important to put your current situation into perspective. Your seasonal stay with your extended family is temporary, and so is the holiday stress that comes with it. Try to understand where they're coming from and try not to take anything too personally.

General Holiday Stress-Busting Tips to Remember

Back to Basics

Besides over-communicating  with your partner, another uncomplicated solution to holiday stress relief is trying to stick to your routine. Sure, it's easier said than done—especially when you're balancing odd work hours, travel and engagement and holiday parties. "As much as you can, maintain your regular sleep routine, get in exercise that's helpful for you and [keep up] any particular stress-coping mechanisms you usually use, like meditation, yoga or mindfulness techniques," Gentile says.

Make Time for What You Want to Do

"The holidays can go by so quickly, so before they begin, sit down as a couple and make a list of priorities," Gentile suggests. "Decide, 'We want to see these three groups of friends or we want to see these family members.' That way the holiday won't speed by before you get to do something you wanted to." 

Oh, and don't forget to set aside some alone time together. You're engaged! Some hot cocoa by the fire or a romantic date night (or two) is just what the doctor ordered to relieve holiday stress.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, some of which may be sponsored by paying vendors.

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