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Want To Avoid Relationship Problems During The Holidays? Start Here


Sarah Regan

mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

By Sarah Regan

mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor’s in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.

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The holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most stressful.

The “mental load,” AKA the invisible labor involved in managing a household and family, typically falls on women’s shoulders1. And if it wasn’t obvious, that can put a serious strain on not only the woman of the house, but the relationship between her and her partner.

So, considering the mental load tends to ramp around the holidays, we asked an expert what couples can do to keep the peace this season.

How the mental load shows up around the holidays

You can probably already imagine the mental load that goes into planning the holiday season. As licensed marriage and family therapist, Erin Pash, LMFT, tells mindbodygreen, everything from stressing about money for gifts, to planning secret Santas, to keeping track of all the holiday invites, can be incredibly overwhelming.

And beyond just financial stressors, there’s a lot of pressure for moms to give their families the “best” holiday season ever. It’s exciting to think you’ve found the perfect gift for you daughter, for instance, but then there’s also the fear of disappointment if they don’t like it. “There’s this intense fear of disappointment, like, ‘What if I can’t pull it off? What if I get the wrong thing? There’s that worry and concern,” Pash says.

Top that all off with a dose of seasonal depression, and you’re cooking with some turbulent waters. As Pash notes, this won’t apply to everyone, but women are four times more likely to be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder than men—and that’s definitely not going to help when it comes to getting through the holidays.

So, if this sounds all too familiar and it’s causing some strain in your relationship, here’s what to do about it.

How to avoid the mental load impacting your relationship


Have a conversation about it

What’s the point of partnership if not to be partners? As Pash tells mindbodygreen, “If people are coupled or married, you have to divide and conquer—and I think it starts with a really honest conversation around alignment.”

If you feel like the mental load is taking a toll on your relationship, tell your partner you’re in need of support, especially around the holidays. Talk about what the mental load is, how it shows up in your relationship, and what you two can do to get on the same page about how you’re going to tackle the holiday season.


Map out your holiday plan together

Once you’re both on board with handling the holidays as a team, find a time to sit down and map it out, Pash suggests. “My significant other and I literally set time on our calendar to go through everything—make the list, purchase what we can ahead of time, etc., so we can check things off,” she adds.

Think about things like your budget, who you’re buying for, who will handle which gifts, and of course, your family calendar.

And sometimes, Pash notes, you’ll find the two of you might have different prioritizes, and that’s OK. “Write down what’s important to you on the list in order, and you each have to at least do your partner’s top two,” she recommends. For example, maybe that’s going to your husband’s work party you really don’t want to go to, or your sister-in-law’s White Elephant gift exchange—but if it matters to your partner, it should matter to you.


Manage expectations & set boundaries

Finally, as you’re mapping out your plans—or even running into snafus, which are bound to happen—manage expectations for yourself and everybody else, and don’t be afraid to set boundaries.

As Pash says, for example, “If you’re burnt out because you don’t love the picture you took of your family this year, just don’t send the holiday card and you will survive.”

Maybe it’s declining an invite because you know you’ll need a night in, opting out of sending gifts to all your kid’s teachers for the sake of your budget, or even simply easing up on the reigns and allowing a perfectly imperfect holiday season to unfold. The point is, eliminate stress where and when you can, and don’t feel bad about it.

The takeaway

If the mental load is dimming the sparkle of your holidays (or your relationship), don’t be afraid to ask your partner for support and cut yourself some slack. The holiday season is for family and friends, celebration, and the magic of this time of year; Fighting over choresand gifts is no way to spend it.

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