After-Holiday Resentments for Couples: A Holiday Hangover Cure
After-holiday resentments for couples can take different forms and can leave couples struggling to recover their connection. Before we talk about how couples tame resentments after the holidays, see what sounds familiar to you:
- Tensions that occurred during holiday events still linger between you
- Hurt feelings caused by extended family have an emotional toll
- Too much alcohol led to escalated arguments, with hurtful things said to each other
- Too many holiday activities and no time to relax and just be together
- Holiday spending that went way over budget and now one or both of you is feeling stressed
- More arguments because of any of the above!
We’ll help you understand how after-holiday resentments for couples can occur and, importantly, how to resolve any leftover hurts. Then, we’ll give you ideas to strengthen and renew your connection.
Unspoken Expectations: Often the Culprit of After-Holiday Resentments for Couples
Before the holidays, I wrote about Holiday Stress: 6 Keys for Reducing Couples Tension and Distress. Holidays often have hopes and dreams for us. We want each holiday to be special and memorable. In our own mind, we often have expectations . . . of our partner, of gifts we would like to receive, of how others will help us feel special at this time of year. Even if you try your best, the holidays can be a breeding ground for tension and resentments.
And, therein lies the problem, unfortunately. Those expectations may be in our own mind, yet we have not shared our desires for the holidays with our partner. So, events unfold with the best of intentions by everyone, but those hopes and desires may not have come to fruition.
Holidays are important events. We plan, shop, decorate, gather family and friends together. But holidays unfortunately also can be fertile grounds for misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
The Ghosts of Holidays Just Passed
And, those hurt feelings can linger. If not addressed, the roots of resentment can take hold.
After-holiday resentments for couples typically stem from feeling disappointed in the actions or oversights of someone important to you. If that someone was your partner or spouse, it could feel as if the strong bond you share is somehow not honored or valued.
Resentment can remain beneath the surface of your awareness, but, unless resolved, remain a source of hurt and upset. Then, during a disagreement — often about an unrelated issue, the resentment is brought up by the hurt partner as anger and possibly accusation.
It’s not unusual for therapists to hear about resentments between couples that date back years, perhaps decades . . . even to the early days of the relationship.
Resentment Is Often Hidden, Yet Keeps Resurfacing
After-holiday resentments for couples are indeed tricky to understand. In fact, we may not be aware we hold a resentment. Yet — here’s the sneaky part — the feelings of hurt and disappointment may be affecting our behavior. Here’s how:
Christina felt Steve was aloof on their first Christmas together with her family — 8 years ago. Now, when they visit her family at the holidays,Christina feels she’s somehow upset with Steve. Of course, every bride envisions her first Christmas as near-perfect and even the smallest misunderstanding can feel larger in scope.
Steve felt he could not pleaseChristina with any holiday plans or gifts. Eventually, he stopped trying because he felt he would always fail.
In counseling,Christina finally and angrily talks about how she felt on that Christmas week so long ago. Steve suddenly has a deeper understanding of her. He explains, “I was so scared that day. You had planned the holiday down to each detail, and I didn’t want anything to go wrong. I wanted the day to be everything you wanted.”
Christina then remembers how shy Steve was around her family in the early years, and he begins to make more sense. “OMG! I wish I had known. I’ve been hurt and angry all these years.” Both realized they should have talked about this issue far, far sooner.
This example (names and circumstances have been changed, of course) may seem simplistic, but therapists who use Emotionally Focused Therapy are often witness to similar revelations.
Moving Toward Healing Resentments
If we’re holding a resentment toward our partner, we do have the opportunity to clear the air. Here are some helpful ideas:
- Be brave and take the risk to initiate the conversation with your partner. Softly tell your partner what’s bothering you. “Softly” is important here; if you’re angry, your partner or spouse may become defensive or not know how to handle your anger.
- Listen with compassion to your partner’s response. It’s important to try to understand his or her perspective and to hear new information about your partner’s views.
- Be curious. Encourage your partner to explain if you don’t understand their perspective.
- It’s certainly possible your partner’s explanation isn’t what you’d hoped. Perhaps he or she was insensitive to your needs at the time.
- Importantly, we’re informing our partner of our hurt feelings that we may not have shared. So allow him or her to absorb and reflect.
- Share responsibility. You’ve held in the resentment, and it may have grown. Your partner is unaware and may have unintentionally caused hurt feelings. Stand together to try to resolve the issue. Accept apologies and help each other reconnect and heal.
In some cases, couples do need the help of an EFT therapist, particularly when the negative cycle has been active for some time.
Reconnecting After the Holidays
Talking through after-holiday resentments is a great step. Then, it’s time to consider recovering your connection.
There are so many pressures on couples today that make maintaining connection a challenge: Career and work demands, active children and their scheduled activities, caring for aging parents and all the chores of maintaining a home. Holidays can add to that stress.
Successful couples make their relationship a priority. Unfortunately, there’s no one formula; each couple needs to find what works for them. Here are a few suggestions, however, to get you thinking:
- Make a list of the best times when you’ve felt most connected. What were you doing? Where were you? How did you feel? So, consider putting into place these same activities on a regular basis.
- What do you love doing together? A sport? Hiking? Cuddling on the couch with a good movie? These are items to consider putting into your “staying connected plan.”
- Make time for intimacy (challenging with young children at home). The emotional bond is strengthened and maintained through intimacy.
- Select a time each day for connection: perhaps over the morning cup of coffee; talking after dinner instead of watching TV; or go to bed earlier so you have time together.
- Set boundaries with children that Mom and Dad have set aside special time for each other and to please save interruptions for a little later.
If the holidays contributed to disconnection, it’s helpful to realize this is a common occurrence for couples — and that, with a focus on reconnection, many couples can get back on track.
For more ideas on how to communicate with your spouse, read our post on Communication in Relationships.
If you’d like to learn more about Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy that we offer here in Denver and Longmont, check out the article about this effective approach to couples therapy.