Holidays can be so stressful that they make the most “soul mate” of couples bristle and disagree.
Unfortunately the most heated fights of the year between couples occur precisely when they should be experiencing peace on earth and goodwill towards all—yes, at holiday time. Couples with kids and in-laws (as well as end-of-year reports and job expectations) are ticking time bombs. As a psychologist who specializes in relationships, I find that from November through mid January I am putting out fires and defusing all kinds of arguments.
So here are the Top Six Ugly Fights of the Season and my doctor’s orders for how to handle them.
1. “That wasn’t funny; that was mean.” The variation: “That wasn’t sarcasm; that was bad taste.”
DOCTOR’S ORDERS: Watch yourself. Is his off-putting humor inspired by being around his sophomoric siblings or is it a passive/aggressive way to get back at a spouse who said something like #1? Just because people eventually grow up doesn’t mean they don’t get less sensitive about certain things (e.g., a receding hairline, “kankles”)—some topics are off limits, no matter what time of year.
2. “We can afford it, loosen up on the purse strings.” The variation: “You spend too much, we aren’t made of money.”
DOCTOR’S ORDERS: With advertising pushing the message that your purchase corresponds to the amount of love you have for someone, it’s hard not to get swept away by the vision of the recipient being mesmerized and giddy with gratitude from your gift. If you underspent (improbable) you can always make up for it on their birthday.
3. “You drink too much.” The variation: “Why don’t you mingle instead of staying by the bar all the time?”
DOCTOR’S ORDERS: Acknowledge that you do drink a bit. Go into “how much” at a later time. Realize that no one likes saying these words; if your significant other says them to you, you can bet you were embarrassing yourself as well, even if you thought your rendition of “Blue Christmas” was the best you ever heard.
4. “There is too much to do; you need to pitch in more.” The variation: “Work with me not against me . . . we have to stay on schedule.”
DOCTOR’S ORDERS: Pay attention to your communication skills (or lack thereof) and your ability to work as a team. You have to make lists and establish the time constraints of a precisely-timed contestant show. While during the year your differences in opinion of what “on time” means may not be critical, now is when your ability to read non-verbals, pick up slack for each other, and prioritize is essential. Did you fail miserably? Wait till January and see about working on them during the year.
5. “You drive like a maniac.” The variation: “How did you get a license?”
DOCTOR’S ORDERS: Keep your cool and realize that during the holidays road rage may be the only place to vent given all the “cheer” we are supposed to be experiencing. Traveling because of family obligations starts with a bang on Thanksgiving weekend, the most traveled weekend of the year. December feels worse because of shopping, traffic, and tight time schedules. If any alcohol is involved, put your foot down firmly.
6. “You act like such a fake around your boss/siblings/neighbors—I hate seeing that side of you.” The variation: “It takes so much energy to feign interest in your boring coworkers, friends, family; I hate it.”
DOCTOR’S ORDERS: It’s normal to feel like you have to put up a façade from time to time. If his alter-ego is really jerk, this might be a time for a sit down and heart to heart talk but wait until after the party.
Dr. Belisa Vranich is a clinical psychologist, author, and presenter with a private practice in New York City where she focuses on short-term dynamic psychotherapy that is highly interactive. She’s written five self-help books, including He’s Got Potential: a field guide to shy guys, bad boys, intellectuals, cheaters and everything in between (Wiley Pubs) and Boys Lie (HCI Pubs), a sexual and emotional wellbeing book for teens.