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5 Psychologist-Approved Habits To Keep Holiday Drama Out Of Your Relationship

Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist By Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist
Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist based in Sonoma County, California. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute and a master's in counseling from Sonoma State University.
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I'm running on empty, and the last thing I need is another holiday to-do list from her.

It's infuriating that he didn't have my back when his sister made that nasty comment during dinner.

She's so selfish; can't she see that another family holiday party will send me over the edge?

Why does he spend so much on gifts when we're already struggling financially?

The holidays bring a load of joyful connection and delights, but they can also take a toll on relationships. Especially when we focus on doing our best for others—showing a bright and upbeat face to the world even when we're stressed—our intimate relationships often take the hit. And, unfortunately, holiday pressures can trigger us in subtle ways that create draining relationship drama. 

As you prepare for the holiday season ahead, here are five habits that can help you keep drama out of your relationship and improve your connection to your partner.

Habit 1: Embrace healthy boundaries.

Make it a habit to create simple, clear boundaries with your partner. As described in detail in my book Date Smart: Transform Your Relationships and Love Fearlessly, giving thoughtful attention to your boundaries can save your sanity and your relationship. The goal is to create flexibility and balance in your relationship with boundaries that increase your mental and physical well-being. Get ahead of the issues by crafting a list of the boundary areas where you and your partner could use a tuneup, and strategize together to create healthy go-to boundaries.

For example, your relationship might benefit from saying no to overly taxing holiday invitations or instituting healthy strategies to deter drama-prone family members.

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Habit 2: Foster a gratitude attitude.

During the busy holiday season, we're often oriented toward wanting to do more and buy more. Instead of chasing the "too much is never enough" theme, channel your energy into mindful gratitude for all that you do have. When the urge to "do more" or "purchase more" grabs you or your partner, make a commitment to taking a mindful step back. In this reflective space, simply pause to recalibrate and give gratitude for your blessings.

Mindfulness practices such as this ward off relationship drama by helping you notice insistent "must-have" or "must-do" urges without reacting to them. And, as an extra bonus, the increased level of gratitude benefits your intimate relationship by fostering appreciation and connectedness.

Habit 3: Give a positive reframe to challenging issues.

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When plans and holiday agendas seem to go awry, relationship drama can quickly unfold. But rather than letting situations grab ahold of you in damaging ways, practice reframing a seemingly negative situation into a positive. This simple (if sometimes challenging) habit can instantly transform a would-be disaster into an act of positive, loving acceptance.

For example, if a snowstorm halts your holiday travel plans or the turkey dinner is burned to a crisp, the stage might be set for relationship rancor. Yet, if you pause to reframe the issue into the positive, you'll be on top of the one thing you can control: your response to the situation. By shifting a negative thought to a positive response, the snowstorm becomes an opportunity for increased couple time at home, and the burned dinner drama gives you a chance to order in Chinese food or a no-fuss pizza.

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Habit 4: Intentionally tap into your inner world.

Strangely enough, the holidays often trigger unresolved childhood issues—those pesky inner dynamics that often create a sense of feeling unloved and unseen. These often-unconscious patterns can lead to bouts of angry stubbornness, frustration, or perfection-induced anxiousness.

When you begin to notice the moments that you or your partner seem to be bringing old, unhealed dramas into the relationship, you're taking the first step toward healthy change. And, when you talk with your partner about what's going on inside, you're well on your way to healing and creating positive change.

Habit 5: Splurge wildly on rest and relaxation.

Two of the most important habits to embrace during the holiday season are relaxation and healthy sleep hygiene. Drama is far more likely to take hold when you or your partner are feeling tired or stressed. And, as the holidays tend to add more emotional, mental, and physical stress to our plates, it's important to make it a habit to splurge on extra rest and relaxation. When you're creating your holiday to-do list, be sure to pencil in plenty of time for rejuvenating R&R.

When you embrace these five healthy habits, you'll find that drama tends to fizzle out while loving connection increases. And by putting your well-being and relationship first on the list of holiday must-haves, your relationship will shine during and after the holidays. 

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