Dr. Jess on Sex: A holiday survival guide for couples

How to avoid fights, family pressure, a low libido and financial stress in the festive season

Fighting with your partner over the holidays isn’t uncommon, as the season of joy and cheer is also fraught with stress, exhaustion and irritability for couples and families. During this busy time of year, insignificant disagreements often snowball into full-fledged squabbles as your regular routine is disrupted by parties, house guests and seasonal chores.

You might blame 45 days of incessant Christmas carols, but experts believe that relationship strife is tied to issues of family, health, intimacy and money.

If you have a history of fighting over the holidays, let 2023 be the year you break your bad habits and plan for success with the guidance of Toronto experts.

Family can often be the largest source of friction. Brandie Weikle, founder of thenewfamily.com, believes that our unrealistic expectations may be to blame. We won’t all have a Norman Rockwell holiday season — and that’s perfectly fine.

For blended families, the holidays can present some practical challenges related to time, gifts and events.

“How do you split the kids’ time between exes? Who gets to give kids the item at the top of their lists? Who pays for the gift from Santa? How will exes and new spouses interact at a school concert?” says Weikle of the questions that will typically arise.

She reminds separated parents that flexibility and compromise are of paramount importance to ensure that your kids’ happiness takes precedence over your feelings toward one another.

If you’re part of a blended family and want to have a harmonious holiday season with your current partner, be sure to include your partner in the planning whenever possible.

Even if he or she is not comfortable sitting down with your ex to discuss schedules and logistics, ask for your partner’s input and acknowledge his or her feelings before you confirm plans.

You must also remember to focus on yourself and your personal health this time of year.

Jane Clapp, holistic personal trainer in Toronto, believes that fitness is essential to holiday harmony.

“Movement makes us feel more mojo, and where there’s more mojo, there’s more play, connection and an ability to bounce back from disagreements. We need to move for a minimum of 30 minutes a day. It doesn’t have to be at a gym or a yoga studio. Go out for a walk or do an online yoga class (try doyogawithme.com) and use the holidays as an opportunity to create new habits,” says Clapp.

Research shows that couples who exercise together are not only more likely to stick to their fitness routine, but exercise also boosts mood, improves sleep quality and leads to more frequent and satisfying sex.

If you feel the tension mounting in December, I suggest you clear your mind with the Scientific 7 Minute Workout from FitnessBlender.com. This is my go-to tension reliever (and my husband’s too!), and it amounts to less than one per cent of our day in terms of time commitment.

If, despite making healthy choices, sex is the last thing on your mind during the festive season, give yourself a break.

Instead, prioritize your intimate connection by taking a few minutes to make your partner feel special each day: serve him or her first at dinner and cocktail parties (we often cater to our guests at the expense of our partners), warm up your partner’s socks or shoes with a hair dryer in the morning, squeeze a fresh glass of orange juice, pick up breakfast sandwiches, book a mid-day coffee date or massage his or her feet for two minutes before bed.

A dip in libido is perfectly normal over the holidays, and if you cultivate your connection in other ways, it’s likely to re-emerge once the in-laws vacate the guest suite.

Another contentious area is gift giving and budgets. Shannon Lee Simmons, founder of the New School of Finance and the Budgeting With Your Boo online course for couples, knows that the holidays can bring added financial stress and bickering. She connects our financial expectations to our most intimate feelings and reminds us that our values are often reflected in our spending habits.

“When one partner wants to spend more on gifts, it’s likely because gifts also make them feel important. When the other person doesn’t feel the same way, their intended financial responsibility can be misconstrued as a attack on their partner’s values,” says Lee Simmons.

She suggests that couples plan for success by sitting down at the beginning of the season and writing a holiday spending plan.

“Once you’re both on the same page as to where the spending is going this season, then the hard part is done! All you have to do is stick to the plan,” she says.

Happy holidays and all the best for 2024!

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO