Don’t let holiday financial stress ruin your relationship
|By Lynnette Khalfani-Cox
8:03 AM on 12/23/2010
Could this week be the time when the person you’re dating breaks up with you?
Unfortunately, if your partner is financially struggling, the odds of a break-up are much greater now — right before Christmas.
It’s a fact that people experience heightened anxiety during the holidays. The pressures range from juggling busy social calendars to entertaining out-of-town relatives who may be visiting.
But perhaps one of the biggest stress points Americans face is related to the economic anxiety people endure during the holidays. And much of that stress is tied to the social and financial pressures of giving gifts to loved ones.This stress is particularly acute for couples, where expectations can run high and emotions tend to make the “What did you get for Christmas?” question take on larger-than-life significance.
For women, in particular, this question seems to get tongues wagging. Don’t let a friend ask what you got for Christmas and you say “nothing” or “nothing special.” You’re liable to get all kinds of crazy looks.
Perhaps that’s why — among younger and older couples – pre-Christmas breakups seem to be happening with more and more frequency, especially during a tough economy. A few statisticians even used Facebook status updates and comments (as in “single” or “in a relationship” or “breakup”) to highlight this trend. Not surprisingly: the top two times of the year for breakups were just before Christmas — and right before Valentine’s Day.
Back in the Day
My husband once shared a story with me about a girl that he dated back in high school. They went out to the movies a couple of times, sent letters back and forth to each other in school, and were really into each other. But as their 6-month-old relationship neared the holidays, Earl abruptly ended the relationship around mid-December because he did not have enough money to buy her a decent gift.
You see circa 1980, she (he won’t tell me her name) was what you would call a “fly girl.” Sheepskin coat, big gold “door knocker” earrings, perfume, Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, the whole nine.
Earl was raised in a modest middle class home that did not buy into all of the designer labels, name brand sneakers (back then it was Puma, Adidas or bust) and other status symbols. He knew, or thought he knew, that giving her anything less a gold chain — which back then was the ultimate display of affection — meant he ran the risk of being ridiculed. Or even worse, she might get ridiculed if her friends asked that old “What did you get for Christmas” question, and her answer wasn’t up to snuff.
On the other hand, if he had the money to cough up a gold chain with a house medallion, that would have practically been like getting engaged. Remember, I’m talking the late 70s/early 1980s in New York, specifically the Bronx.
Anyway, to this day Earl still feels the anxiety that comes each holiday season when “the pressure is on” to come up with a great gift.
Of course, I try to reassure him that I don’t want or need any spectacular gift – or indeed anything at all. In fact, when we got married in 2007, I’m the girl who played “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys’ for him as one of our wedding songs.
For those who may have forgotten the lyrics, the relevant hook is:
Some people want it all
I don’t want nothing at all
If it ain’t you baby
If I ain’t got you baby
Some people want diamond rings
Some just want everything
It means nothing nothing
If I ain’t got you
Love ballads aside, I still wonder how many male teens and young adults become grown men who think the same way that Earl does because of early experiences.
For those men (and their women), let me offer three bits of advice for keeping your relationship on track, even if your finances seem to have gotten derailed for one reason or another.
Women: If you really care about your man, let him know that you’re not evaluating him based on the size of his bank account, or the size of the gift he may get you for Christmas. Likewise, fellas: if you think your honey is the type of woman who is definitely expecting some over-the-top present, gently let her know — before Christmas eve! – that even though your funds are limited, your affection for her is boundless.
There’s nothing wrong with the two of you having a mutual agreement to set a budget on your gift giving. Set a cap that each of you can live with, say $50 or $100 maximum. People who have big families often use this strategy to go easy on their pocketbooks. This is also a common custom for gift-giving in the workplace.
Make it Personal
If you can make or create a gift that is personalized, customized and thoughtful, that’s giving your sweetheart something priceless. Putting a favorite picture of the two of you together in a nice frame is sweet. But why not go the extra step, and put in some serious effort to show how precious and valuable your time together has been? To pull that off, you’ll need to create something closer to a mini-photo album of the two of you, maybe with newspaper clippings from important dates you spent together or memorabilia from shared events (like concert stubs, movie tickets, or mementos from trips). The point is to wow her with your thoughtfulness, and to get the two of you going back down memory lane together.
These tips will help you appreciate your past and build a future together knowing that you care about one another in good economic times and bad.