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It’s worse at Christmas

When are you most stressed?

One recent survey found that 35% of those asked said Christmas was one of the most stressful times of the year – and the pressure weighs heavily on women in particular.

You don’t see the men’s magazines telling their readers how to  decorate the tree like a professional designer, choose just the right presents for their own and their partner’s family, keep everyone entertained and happy – and present a perfectly cooked turkey before the pre-lunch drinks run out. Is it surprising, then, that women feel stressed out, angry, misunderstood and under-appreciated?

But men are stressed too, embroiled in a process not of their choosing, and feeling harassed and uncomfortable in an unaccustomed role. It becomes a highly combustible combination. The strain on the relationship at Christmas, though, is merely a more intense version of the relationship day by day. Come January, both parties settle back into old, familiar routines and paper over the cracks – until the next confrontation exposes the faultlines.

The big mistake

But here comes the big mistake that most of us make. We each hold onto the belief that if only the other would change, things would be so much better. But none of us can change another person’s behaviour – least of all by grumbling, complaining or withdrawing. OK, maybe they make a temporary shift – but it will be done under pressure or out of guilt. And it’s no fun being on the receiving end of such reluctant compliance. So what is the alternative?

Three questions

Start with these three questions:

  •  What do you want out of your relationship?
  •  What do you feel, say or do if you don’t get what you want?
  •  And does what you say or do move you in the right direction? Does it help you to get more of what you want – without making life difficult for your partner?

Question 1

Take the first question: what do you want from your relationship with your partner? Notice how this question focuses on YOU. It’s not about what you want your partner to do – or to stop doing. It’s about the qualities, the longings, the needs that YOU want and that will enable you to thrive in the relationship.

When I ask the question of people, they often respond with a complaint about their partner. For example: ‘My partner never asks me about my work’

Imagine yourself making that same complaint. What might lie behind it? What might you be longing for? I would guess that maybe you’re wanting some understanding for the challenges you’re facing. Or perhaps you’re longing for support. Or might it be that you’re wanting to celebrate some successes?

Try another one. Maybe your complaint is that your partner doesn’t remember the anniversary of the time you first met. And if you go a little deeper, maybe you feel a bit uncertain about how important your relationship is to your partner. This triggers a really fundamental longing that we all share – which is to know that we matter.

Question 2

What happens for most of us is that we get upset when our needs are not met. Sometimes our upset is mild. Other times, it is very strong. And then when we react from that strong upset, we say and do things like kick up a fuss, nag, complain ever more strongly. I tend to make a single cutting remark – and the tone of my voice speaks volumes. What do you do? What is your pattern? For now, just notice what you say and do – because there’s no change without awareness.

Question 3

Here comes the big question: Does what you do get you more of what you want? If you’re in the habit of expressing your upset as a complaint, then I have my doubts. Your partner is likely to hear you as being critical and will most probably get defensive.

An invitation

So what I invite you to do at Christmas – or at any other stressful time – is to monitor yourself. Whenever you find yourself getting ratty with your partner, or feel a surge of annoyance or anger, take a few moments to ask yourself ‘what am I needing right now?’

I can guarantee that when you speak from that heartfelt place, the quality of your interaction with your partner will be totally different. Learning to express our needs is new for most of us and takes us outside our comfort zone. It can also be scary. Worth a try, though!