The holidays are a time of happiness and joy as well as a time of significant stress for many. When tensions are already running high between a couple, the holidays could be the breaking point that just puts someone over the edge.

Picture a family consisting of a working dad, stay-at-home mom, and 3 children, ages 16, 14 and 10.

Financial Strain:

Think of the husband who might be struggling financially and is anxious about making ends meet. There are three kids and a wife to take care of, and the holidays are approaching. That means gifts for all, and with two teens and a tween in the house, that could get pretty expensive. The marriage is on the rocks and he might be thinking, “Maybe I can make her happy if I buy her X (insert any expensive thing you can think of).” Or, maybe he thinks, if I didn’t have the responsibility of a family, I’d be better off financially.

Strained Family Relationships:

Think of the family tradition of all relatives convening at this house. All of the strained relationships coming together for one day of celebration and family bonding. If you don’t get along with your sister-in-law, and your mother-in-law always has something to complain about, it might cause even more problems between you and your spouse.

Feeling Overwhelmed With Day-to-Day Life:

Do you feel all the organizing falls into your lap? Are you the one to plan, shop and prepare the food for the day? Do you buy all the gifts for your children, husband, in-laws, parents, siblings and their kids? Does anyone offer to even help wrap the gifts? Does any of this hard work get noticed or appreciated? Do you resent your husband for being able to leave this all to you without a second thought? I mean, he is the one earning the money, right? (Note the slight sarcasm.)

Questioning Your Level Of Satisfaction:

For some, the holidays are also a time for insightful reflection. Do you watch holiday movies or see Facebook posts and wonder why it seems all other families are so put together and harmonious during holiday time? Do you wish that for once there didn’t have to be an argument about at least three silly things during the holiday this year? Do you picture how your life would be different if you married someone else? Do you feel that no matter what you say or do, you will be judged, snapped at, or criticized anyway?

A Bad Marriage Under Pressure:

The holidays seem to bring out the best as well as the worst in some people, which then affects their relationships with everyone around them. The pressure many people put on themselves seems to only magnify things when they don’t meet up to expectations. If a marriage is already shaky, the foundation just might not be there to withstand the hurricane (and tornado) that may occur when extended family is around. Expectations are not met and dreams are shattered of the family life you hoped and wished you had.

You only have control over yourself with how you react to whatever is happening around you. Make a game plan for yourself and stick to it. Ask for help if you need/want it. Don’t overload yourself. Ask relatives to contribute to the festivities with a specific part of the meal.

Expect that conflict will arise, and have an escape plan to give yourself time to cool off, such as taking the dog for a walk, checking on the oven, etc. Think before responding (take a breath, or two or three!). If you are prepared in advance, the holidays do not have to be as stressful as they might have been or as much as you expect. Give yourself time to decompress afterwards to reevaluate your feelings about your spouse. If you still feel that your marriage is over and un-fixable, it is time to start the process of moving on.

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