It’s common during the holidays to be so busy with parties, presents, meals, shopping, decorating—and every other form of hoopla—that our relationships end up taking a serious hit. Our love lives are left by the wayside as we become consumed with buying the right fishing rod for Uncle Joe, picking up Aunt Mae for Thanksgiving dinner, or figuring out how to hang a wreath on a door without an existing nail.
A variety of indicators—such as reported holiday breakups (pre-, post-, and during), an uptick in relationship status changes on Facebook after holidays, or divorce lawyers’ phones ringing off the hook in January—suggest that couples don’t just tend to ignore each other over the holidays, they also .
indicates that when partners do small, everyday gestures of kindness for each other and engage with positive intention and presence, they “grow their emotional bank account,” which acts as a source of stability and resiliency that protects them from the negative effects of conflict and stress.
Here are a few ways to ensure that your romantic relationship doesn’t suffer, and that your “emotional bank account” continues to grow throughout the holiday season:
1. Plan at least one just-the-two-of-you date
You may be juggling extended family parties, cookie exchanges or work celebrations, but plan at least one romantic one-on-one date.
Couples who at least once a week on dates are more likely to have high-quality relationships and less likely to divorce. And couples who spend more time together also report higher levels of communication, sexual satisfaction and commitment.
2. Be of service together
Visiting an elderly neighbor, shoveling snow from a neighbor’s driveway, buying coats for kids who need them, or making sandwiches for a shelter bonds you in a unique way and adds meaning.
3. Create an annual tradition—just for the two of you
Think about one ritual you could repeat year after year that would add more joy to your relationship. It might be having hot chocolate together on a holiday after the kids go to bed, watching a favorite movie together every holiday, or running a 5K together on New Year’s Day.
4. Give unexpected gifts, words or gestures
When participants in one relationship study were asked, “What two things do you like best about your relationship?” they mentioned small words and gestures—like having their partner bring them a cup of tea in bed or cooking a meal for them. behind the reason for the gift and its meaning sometimes mean more than the gift itself.
Get your partner’s car washed, make them breakfast, rent their favorite movie from the library, or put a sweet note in their wallet. Rather than buying the exact blue robe requested, give an unexpected gift—one that took a bit of thoughtfulness and creativity. Research suggests that most people both prefer and appreciate the gift-giver more when gifts are unexpected. For more ideas on kind relationship gestures, click .
5. Give each other some leeway… and tenderness
Understand that your partner may be feeling stressed, emotional and exhausted during the holidays, and give each other some leeway: 44% of women and 31% of men reported that their than normal over the holidays. Many people are tired, and lack of sleep can diminish your ability to .
Research suggests that couples fight more and have a harder time if even one partner slept poorly the night before. can also fuel mood swings, angry outbursts or misunderstandings of someone’s intentions.
Be gentle—support each other through stress instead of allowing stress to ruffle or erode your relationship.
6. Be proactive and don’t keep score
Many couples are disappointed by unmet expectations—like when a partner doesn’t buy the right present or doesn’t want to stay at a party longer. Author Maura Kelly suggests asking your partner one question—a critical question that has the potential to turn around your whole holiday season with your partner: