Doctors use stress tests to evaluate your heart health: By increasing the demands on your heart and requiring it to work harder and faster than normal, you can suddenly you can see problems that might otherwise go unnoticed.
The parallel in love? For some, it’s the holidays.
Many relationships are engaged in a rigorous stress test from Thanksgiving through the new year. Couples find themselves negotiating emotionally-laden demands (“We’ll both go to my parents' for Christmas, right?”) and trying to find their footing in new contexts (“You’re going to love meeting my high school friends!”). While some couples thrive under the stress, and discover how well they work together, others may begin to question whether the costs balance the benefits of the relationship.
Because the holidays can be a pressure-cooker, they can give you new insight into the long-term potential of your relationship. Use these five questions to determine whether your relationship passes the test.
No doubt you'll have to make decisions as a couple this season. What shape will these negotiations take? Couples who compromise validate each other’s needs, rather than self-prioritizing or self-subordinating (i.e., giving in and denying one's own needs). When holiday-related decisions are not truly made as compromises—and be honest when evaluating your own relationship—it’s a potential concern. True compromise is predictive of a host of positive relationship factors, such as satisfaction and respect (Zacchili, Hendrick, & Hendrick, 2009).
Building a positive rapport between your partner and your family is important, especially if your relationship could lead to marriage. If your partner gets along with your parents, such harmony is predictive of marital stability and relationship satisfaction (Bryant, Conger, & Meehan, 2001).
It's natural to have expectations; the question is, how does your partner respond? Attachment theory suggests that romantic partners are in the role of caregiver, and have the potential to provide support characterized by interpersonal responsiveness, meaning partners can provide support that is validating, generous, accepting, and understanding (Collins, Guichard, Ford, & Feeney, 2006). When partners don’t offer interpersonal responsiveness, their partners might feel inadequate or like a burden, which are signs of an unhealthy relationship.
Love can feel like a two-person plot, but couples’ friends can play an important role in the success of a relationship. It helps when friends like and enjoy your romantic partner. In heterosexual couples, the woman’s friends are particularly important players in the relationship, as they're often able to predict whether a relationship will last better than the couple itself (Agnew, Loving, & Drigotas, 2001).
In the midst of a busy, stressful time, partners who make time to enjoy each other's company may have what it takes for a lasting relationship. Enduring relationships are characterized by commitment, but also pleasure: The two people enjoy each other (Robinson & Blanton, 1993). Creating habits of pleasure in which you laugh, play, and relax together can foster healthy habits that benefit your relationship.
The holidays go by quickly, but they can give you some very useful information about your relationship's potential. If you survive the season but are left with feelings of regret, misunderstanding, or disappointment, it might be time to reconsider whether this relationship is best for you. If, however, you are pleasantly surprised with how smoothly your partner integrated with your family and friends, how generous he or she was with time and attention, and how thoughtful he or she was in considering your needs, you may be happy to find that your relationship is even healthier and stronger than you thought.