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Stan Tatkin Psy.D.

Stress

Maintain Your Couple Bubble in the Stressful Holiday Season

Three ways to lower your stress: predict, plan, and repair!

Why are you and your partner coupled? Of course, there are many reasons to pair up, but hopefully the two of you have done so in order to keep each other safe and secure, and to make it easier to have each other’s backs. One aspect of having a secure-functioning relationship is having what I call a couple bubble. A couple bubble protects both of you, and that it is meant to be effective in public as well as in private.

When you stay in your couple bubble, you are a formidable team. Knowing that it’s the two of you against the world, you and your partner can handle anyone and anything that comes your way. This is perhaps most important during the holidays, which are the cause of stress for so many couples. And this year, with the added friction resulting from differences in political views in some families and in the workplace, the holiday season is especially challenging.

So use your couple bubble! When stress arises, remember that it’s the two of you against whomever and whatever challenges your peace and happiness. Stick together, and this may be your best holiday season yet!

Canon EOS 5d Mark II/Pixabay
Source: Canon EOS 5d Mark II/Pixabay

Predict – Plan – Repair

The following are three tips for using your couple bubble to successfully navigate holiday parties.

Predict

If you have created a couple bubble, you should be able to predict your partner’s feeling, actions, and reactions (and vice versa). You know each other by now, right? You’re experts on each other. And you’re both predictable. So you can start by anticipating and predicting before you go to a party or other holiday event. What is your partner most likely to do under these circumstances—both with you and the other folks with whom you’ll be spending time? What are you most likely to do? Have a conversation with each other ahead of the event. Get specific. For example, are there people either of you wants to avoid? Are there topics you don’t want to discuss? Is there a time by which you want to leave? And so on. You can’t plan if you don’t predict.

Plan

Make a game plan prior to going into any party or event you predict will be challenging. Again, discuss this ahead of time. I don’t mean days or weeks ahead of time. In that case, neither of you will remember. But close to the time of the event, discuss the party politics and identify any potentially sticky items.

Think together about the worst possible scenarios, and come up with at least two strategies for dealing with them. Run through some if/then scenarios: if “this” happens, we’ll do X, and if “that” happens, we’ll do Y.

For instance, if your Uncle Donald turns out to be as antagonistic, hostile, and obnoxious as he usually is, plan how you will handle him with the least drama possible. Also plan how your partner will help to ground you and keep you from doing or saying something regrettable. This might look as follows: Your uncle makes one too many disparaging remarks about a politician you support. You signal your partner with a predetermined code, such as “Excuse me. Honey, do you have some chap stick handy?” Or reaching over and playing with your partner’s tie or scarf or other pre-identified item. Your partner picks up on the code and shifts the topic of conversation to something safe.

Codes are a way to communicate with your partner in the presence of others. So set up a “help me with this conversation” code, an “it’s time to leave” code, and another codes you anticipate needing.

Don’t drop your partner quickly when you enter the event. Spend time together making sure the shyer of the two of you is included in conversations before you separate.

Check on your partner regularly throughout the event and rescue him or her, as needed.

Repair

If either of you goof up and say or do the wrong thing, repair with each other fast! It’s easy to make mistakes when under stress. No problem. Just make it right as fast as possible. This might mean stepping out of the event for a moment to have a private conversation. Or it might mean signaling each other that you intend to talk about what went wrong and repair as soon as you leave.

Have fun and enjoy reuniting with each other throughout the event. It is always interesting to debrief on your way home.

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About the Author

Stan Tatkin, Psy.D., is an assistant clinical professor in the Family Medicine Department at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.