holiday stressThis past weekend, I had a customer service experience with a manager so appalling that the assistant manager felt the need to step in and say apologetically (and by way of explanation), “She’s had a really rough night.”  My husband said later, only half-jokingly, “Doesn’t that manager know you reserve that stuff for those closest to you?”

Now that the holiday season is in full swing, a lot of people are feeling the stress.  So much to get done, and the sense that it’s supposed to look effortless, coupled with the belief that we should be happy and grateful for our bounties.  That often  leads to irritability, and who’s the lucky beneficiary of that?  Those closest to us.

I’ve noticed that some of the couples I work with (ones who’d made progress) are doing some backsliding.  That’s because in times of stress, we tend to revert to old habits.  When it comes to our relationships, that means we might start enacting negative patterns that we’d begun to move away from.  One partner does what he or she used to do because it’s hard to remember how they’re supposed to behave in the face of all the other things on their plate, and then their partner will find himself or herself reacting in habitual ways, and suddenly, both feel like they’re back at square one.  It’s a very disheartening and anxiety-provoking experience.  But it’s also a fairly normal one.

One of the contributors is that we tend to give ourselves permission to snipe at our significant other in a way we don’t with strangers.  (Which is why that manager’s behavior was so striking as to deserve comment from her coworker.)

Now, I’m not arguing that we should leave our loved ones alone and take up verbally attacking strangers, even if it would be kind of fun for a day.  You know, give yourself permission to really light into everyone who bothers you, from bad drivers to people with 18 items in the 15 Items or Less lane.  You could tell yourself it’s an opportunity to practice your assertiveness skills.  (See my last post, of that very name.)

Okay, so indulging your road rage might not be the best takeaway from this blog post.  Greater awareness is.

Notice when you’re stressed.  Notice that it makes you want to lash out, or retreat, or whatever the habitual response is that tends to alienate your partner.  Then do something else.

Holidays themselves tend to bring people together,  but the days leading up to them can have the opposite effect.  Remember that, and play nice out there!

Coffee lady photo available from Shutterstock