Simple Tips to Maintain Emotional Intimacy During the Hectic Holiday Season

The holiday season is often a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness, when families and friends come together to create lasting memories and strengthen their bonds. 

However, amidst the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations, it can be easy to overlook emotional intimacy, which is essential for maintaining a healthy relationship. Emotional intimacy is the experience of being known and understood within a safe bond with another person. And it is something that must be intentionally cultivated and protected.  Just because you go to bed and wake up next to someone on a daily basis does not mean that emotional intimacy automatically springs up between you two.

Busyness can work against emotional intimacy when you let understanding between you and your partner dim. You can see how the holidays might really set the stage for that. You’re both running alongside each other, trying to check off all the  event planning and gift buying tasks… And you forget to ask “How are you doing?” 

Being proactive about check-ins can help counteract this strange holiday loneliness. Here are some simple tips to help you maintain emotional intimacy with your partner during the hectic holiday season.

Prioritize Quality Time. With a never-ending to-do list during the holidays, it's crucial to prioritize quality time with your loved ones. Set aside moments for meaningful conversations, shared activities, or simply being present with each other. Whether it's a cozy night by the fireplace or a leisurely walk in the snow, these moments can help you connect on a deeper level.

Communicate Openly. Effective communication is the cornerstone of emotional intimacy. During the holidays, be sure to express your thoughts, feelings, and expectations openly with your loved ones. Listen actively to their concerns and needs, as well. You may need to pay special attention to family-related topics like “How do you feel about your relationships with specific in-laws?” Honest and transparent communication can help prevent misunderstandings and foster emotional closeness between you and your partner, easing the stress of holiday gatherings.

Manage Expectations. The holiday season can come with high expectations of how much fun you should be having or the intensity of positive emotion you should be experiencing – often leading to disappointment when reality falls short. The truth is that the holidays are a mixture of emotions for most people, ranging from restful and joyous to somber, grieving, and bittersweet. It’s a time to slow down and reflect on the year for most people, so that understandably comes with a broad spectrum of emotions beyond “merry” or “happy.”

To maintain emotional intimacy throughout the highs and lows, manage expectations by setting realistic goals for gatherings, gifts, and activities. Embrace imperfection, mishaps, and less-than-merry attitudes as part of the experience. For small hiccups – like the turkey took 2 hours longer to cook than you expected – try to laugh it off and focus on the heart of gathering: the warmth and connection you share with your loved ones.

Create Traditions. Traditions can be a beautiful way to strengthen emotional bonds. Consider establishing new holiday traditions or continuing existing ones that hold special meaning for your family or friends. These rituals can create a sense of belonging, anticipation, and continuity through the years, helping to bring folks closer together in a consistent way.

Self-Care. It’s easy to forget about your own needs during the holiday season. Self-care is essential for maintaining emotional intimacy, because when you're emotionally healthy, you can give more to your relationships. What does self-care look like for you? Prioritize those activities that recharge you, whether it's meditation, exercise, epsom salt baths, or simply taking a quiet moment alone in the midst of gatherings.

Delegate and Share Responsibilities. The stress of holiday preparations can strain relationships, diminishing emotional intimacy. To counteract this, share responsibilities and delegate tasks among family members or friends. This not only lightens the load but also fosters a sense of teamwork and cooperation. You’d be surprised at how much effort people will make to get along when they’re working toward a common goal. This is also a strong pitch for having activities at the ready for gatherings, like party or board games. Some conflict stems simply from a sense of understimulation or boredom. If you’ve been catching up about deeper topics for an hour, it’s okay to take a break and just do something fun.

Put Down the Phone. Or game. Or… In today's digital age, it's easy to get caught up in our devices and distractions. During the holidays, make an effort to be present in the moment. Put away your phone, engage in eye contact, and actively listen when someone is talking. Being fully present is a powerful way to nurture emotional intimacy.

Gratitude, Reflection, and Appreciation. As the holiday season comes to a close, take time to reflect on the memories you’ve created and the emotional connections you’ve strengthened. 

When you’re at gatherings, direct your attention and the attention of your loved ones to voice gratitude for each other and for moments throughout the year. This simple practice can create a positive atmosphere, deepen connections, and remind everyone of the importance of your relationships. Gratitude and reflection can leave a lasting impression and set a positive tone for the year ahead.

As you celebrate this season of togetherness, remember that it's the depth of your emotional bonds that truly makes the holidays special. Focus on the people around you and everyone will feel more connected.

And if you’re struggling to keep the closeness you need as the holiday season approaches, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional support. A little help can go along way.

Walt Ciecko, Ph. D., BCB
605 Wynyard Rd
Wilmington, DE 19803