©iStockphoto.com/Svetlana Damjanac Image by: ©iStockphoto.com/Svetlana Damjanac
When it seems like everyone else is living in a warm and fuzzy world, it’s nice to have someone by your side at holiday events. But if that person is not there for the right reasons – either from your own perspective or from his – it’s not nearly as comforting as you think it might be, and it can lead to trouble as soon as the Christmas tree is curbside and life gets back to normal come January.
Kimberly Moffit, a psychotherapist, author and relationship expert based in Toronto, says it’s important to examine your relationship outside of the holiday season. If it wasn’t Christmastime, would you be doing things differently? And if so, why? You shouldn’t let once-a-year events dictate your romantic relationship, she says.
According to Moffit there are a few holiday-related relationship situations that come up time and time again. Fortunately, “just because you've fallen into a relationship ‘trap’ doesn’t mean you can’t get out,” says Moffit.
Here are six of the most common relationship traps you might encounter over the holidays, plus what you need to know about each one.â€¨â€¨
Holiday relationship trap No. 1: Starting a new relationship to make the holidays more bearable
“Many of us will let our fears dictate our behaviours,” says Moffit, but it’s important to fight those fears. Don’t let the prospect of showing up at a Christmas party solo outweigh the awkwardness of bringing someone you don’t really care about. Think about how you might feel after the party.
The same goes for New Year’s Eve, the day when people tend to take stock of their lives and reflect on the goals they set (and achieved) over the past year.
“If you haven’t quite accomplished what you want in life at this point, it’s that much easier to feel depressed about not having a relationship,” says Moffit, which also makes you more likely to get involved in a relationship with Joe Blow – even if he’s not really what you’re looking for.
So go solo. Know that the right person will come along – just maybe not until after the holidays.Holiday relationship trap No. 2: Forgiving someone just because it’s the holidays
Marion Goertz, a registered marriage and family therapist based in Toronto, says that all of the stimulants of the season – mistletoe, curling up under a blanket by a warm fire and “receiving that wonderful, just right something from that wonderful, just right someone” – seem so perfectly out of the movies that they can actually fog our vision.
“They can cause our body’s chemicals, like adrenaline, dopamine and pheromones, to begin pumping through our system, drowning our common sense in warm, fuzzy feelings and a generosity of spirit and openness that could get us into trouble,” she explains.
Or, at a minimum, they can distract us from what we truly want and need. During the holidays, it may seem easier to forgive someone who has wronged you – just so things can get “back to normal” and you can enjoy all of these highs – than it is to move on. But don’t forget: these feelings only last for so long. You shouldn’t make decisions based on the time of year; you should make them based on what is best for you in the long run.
Holiday relationship trap No. 3: Staying in a bad relationship over the holidays
Sometimes we stay in bad relationships simply because we don’t want the added stress of a breakup overshadowing Christmas, even if it’s the right thing to do.
According to Goertz, all major relationship decisions should be made in a sober environment. Forget the eggnog, the cookies and the trimmed tree sparkling in the corner, and make relationship decisions “based on a combination of head, heart and gut instincts,” she says.
Feed your need for attachment and intimacy by spending time with family and good friends, not with someone who you’re no longer happy with.
Holiday relationship trap No. 4: Ending a good new relationship because you run into your ex
For many families, traditions are what make Christmas what it is. You have established routines that you look forward to every year.
If you go home for the holidays and bump into a hometown ex or old flame, you may stir up old feelings, says Moffit. However, it’s important to think beyond the holidays and to remember why the relationship ended in the first place. Aside from Christmas, something wasn’t working.
Plus, if you’re in a new relationship, are you willing to risk what you have to start things up with an ex again? Nostalgia only goes so far.
Holiday relationship trap No. 5: Introducing a potential match to family members and friends too early because you feel you have something to prove to them (or to yourself)
“The holidays put enormous pressure on singles,” says Moffit. In fact, “a recent survey by match.com showed that more Canadians want to be in a relationship during the holidays than any other time of year, including Valentine's Day,” she says.
Here’s why: You feel pressure from everyone else. Christmas is a time when you see your family and they’ll likely ask whether you’ve met anyone special. They may also be sharing tales of their own relationship bliss – a new engagement, marriage or pregnancy. If you haven’t seen them in a while, this can stir up emotions and make you feel like you’re somehow behind.
Don’t let pressure from others dictate whether you bring a date to Christmas dinner, though. If you don’t see yourself with somebody in the long term – or you think it might put too much pressure on a new relationship – don’t bring that person along. See them separately during the holidays and continue to date at your own pace.
Holiday relationship trap No. 6: Letting a relationship get too serious too quickly because of the intimate nature of events such as company Christmas parties, family gatherings and gift giving
It’s easy to get caught up in the holidays. If things are moving too quickly, level with your partner. Be honest about how you’re feeling and tell him or her that you feel things are progressing faster than you’re comfortable with.
“Communication is the most important part of any relationship,” says Moffit, “and it's guaranteed you’ll have more difficult things to talk about eventually if the relationship lasts.”
Happy holiday tips for couples
"Holiday relationships can be happy!” says Moffit. Regardless of how long you’ve been with your partner – whether you’ve been dating for three months or have been married for 30 years – she advises couples to set a “plan of action” for the holidays.
“Set correct expectations in order to avoid disappointment,” she explains. Discuss and agree on any issues you might encounter throughout the holiday season. “For example, plan how much time to spend with each side of the family, what kind of a price limit to set on gifts and have some preset answers for toxic or nosy family members who don't have any boundaries,” she says.