Navigating a New Relationship During the Holidays


Holidays can be a stressful time for new couples. Having different expectations can add strain and affect your moods. You might want to be together during these special days. Or conversely, you might expect you’ll be with your own families.

This article explores the challenges new couples face, how to deal with not knowing where things stand, what new couples argue about, why the gift-giving issue brings tension, and how new couples can manage stress during the holidays.

What Challenges Do New Couples Face During the Holidays?

Although it’s supposed to be the happiest time of the year, for many it’s far from it. Based on a 2021 survey, three out of every five people feel their mental health is adversely affected by the holidays.1

The main challenges that make it tricky for those embarking on a new relationship during the holiday season involve stress, anxiety, fear, as well as communication hurdles.

How to Deal With Not Knowing Where Things Stand

Even though love chemicals (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins) are being produced by your brain, you might not know exactly where things stand during the holidays. Below are some examples of how that may play out.

You’re Not on the Same Wavelength

One person in the couple might assume the relationship is more serious than the other. Reality check: If you don’t spend every weekend together, you can’t be vulnerable and authentic with your special person, and they don’t make you a priority, the relationship might not be serious. Or not yet, anyway.

Uncertainty About Spending the Holidays Together

You don’t know if it is too soon to invite this person to meet family for the holidays. This causes you to lose sleep and stress about it. Assess if it’s the right time by asking yourself:

  • Do your friends and family know about them and vice versa?
  • Can you trust this person?
  • Do they care about your wellbeing?
  • Have they already introduced you to their tribe of significant people?
  • Have they demonstrated they want to go the distance?

Is so, then you could invite this person to your family home. If they decline, they still might care about you, but it might be too early for them to formally meet the whole family.

Lack of Communication

You’re not sure you’re invited to their office party after you invited them to yours. Nor do you know if New Year’s Eve plans will involve being together.

You clam up because you don’t want to show that you’re concerned. Speak up! Lack of confidence can prevent you from communicating about this, but why remain in limbo? Open communication can foster a close, supportive relationship.

As you can see, reducing your stress level and opening up communication can help with these challenges. It’s normal to not be 100% comfortable figuring out what’s going on in a new relationship, but you should be able to relax and honestly voice your questions.

What Do Couples Argue About in New Relationships?

Hot-button issues that usually come up when you’ve been dating for a short time usually revolve around these issues once November and December come around:

*Which family do you visit during the holidays if you’ll be together? Create a plan and show how you can compromise. For example, if you’ve been together a while, say one year you’ll fly to your family, the next year you’ll drive to be with their family. Or spend Thanksgiving with one family and the December holidays with the other.

*How to celebrate when you have different holiday traditions? If you want a giant Douglas fir Christmas tree and your new love wants a fake tree for the apartment, can you find middle ground? Like purchasing a small but real tree? If you’re Christian and the person you are dating is Jewish, can you spend Christmas with your family and Hanukkah with their family?

*What if you can’t agree about expenses? A common issue couples fight about during the holidays is the budget. If travel will be expensive, can you embrace the idea of exchanging hand-made or experiential gifts for you as a couple and your respective families?

Why Gift-Giving Brings Tension

In a fairly new relationship, you don’t know how the other person will approach gift giving. They might feel compelled to purchase something expensive as their family spends big for the holidays. Or they might feel that’s the best way to show you how much they care.

Though it may feel awkward at first, it’s good to share philosophies in advance if you’re in the dark about how to handle gift giving with this person.

If you’ve known each other for less than three months, don’t overdo it and break the bank for this person. It’s a good idea to agree to set a financial limit. That way you won’t feel weird if you bought your special person a gift certificate for their favorite neighborhood pool and beer hall while they bought you a weekend package at a luxury spa in the mountains.

We know that in gift-giving, it’s the thought that counts. Yet, problems with reciprocity are common. We worry about whether or not we got our special someone the right gift. Or we feel like we have to get our special someone a better gift after we open their present for us. Reciprocation anxiety can be burdensome.

How New Couples Can Manage Holiday Stress

We view the end-of-year holidays as a happy and joyous time, but holiday blues do sometimes appear. One person in a new relationship might feel sad, lonely, or overwhelmed. You can predict that there will be lots to do, so here are ways that couples in a new relationship can try to keep stress at bay:

  • Prioritize what needs to be done. Maybe take the least important thing off the list.
  • Split tasks. For example, one wraps the gifts, while the other books the flights.
  • Give yourself self-care daily. That might mean going for a walk in the park by yourself.
  • Practice mindfulness meditation which can lower heart rate and improve immunity.
  • Exercise regularly despite increased demands.
  • Eat nutritiously despite all the gifts of candy and baked desserts at parties.
  • Get plenty of sleep to mitigate the stress during these busy months.

Nurturing close relationships and being with those you love during the holidays is important for both your physical and mental health. A study on relationships during a major holiday found that feeling socially connected and focusing on growth was linked strongly to a person’s well-being. Participants who saw even one other person face-to-face during COVID reported significantly higher levels of satisfaction, focus and well-being.

By Barbara Field
Photo By Kim Stiver