Relationship Holiday Traditions

Creating Shared Meaning During the Holidays

While you partake in festivities this holiday season, I encourage you to remember the importance of taking time for your relationship, even during the holidays.

Click here to get a FREE couples worksheet to explore Relationship Holiday Traditions!

Winter is often the season of the year where we split our time across family, friends and coworkers, while attending holiday events, concerts, and recitals, etc. The concept of creating shared meaning is crucial to relationships, and emphasizing shared meaning during the holiday season can help to reduce stress and increase your enjoyment.

Creating Shared Meaning

Falling in love is wonderful, and relationships stay alive when they are nurtured. If you feel that something is missing from your relationship, it might be a sense of shared meaning. Couples can create shared meaning through rituals, roles, symbols and goals, according to Dr. John Gottman. The early stages of your relationship can be an especially fun and exciting time as you establish shared meaning, which will shape the future of your relationship year after year. Sharing a common vision or goal for your life together can help you focus on the big picture and avoid focusing on the little things that come up.

(Psst! Read about my upcoming Gottman Seven Principles Workshop for Couples by clicking here.)

Relationship Rituals

Relationship rituals are activities that you do at a predetermined frequency, and can include daily and weekly rituals of connection. Other rituals include anniversaries, birthdays, other special dates, and—you guessed it—holidays. Maybe you kiss each other goodnight and good morning, go to the same restaurant every year for your anniversary, or host a family potluck every holiday. Perhaps you visit the same neighbourhood to look at the holiday display, or watch certain movies together during the holiday season. Maybe you trade off whose family you see on December 24th and whose you see on the 25th. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, there might be family holiday traditions to navigate with your partner.

If this is your first holiday season together, this is an exciting time to create rituals that you can continue every year of your relationship. Maybe you‘re already in a long-term relationship and you want to change things up; you can introduce new rituals anytime you want. Building rituals in your relationship is part of the creative process because there are no rules on what you decide to do or how frequently you decide to do them.

To build shared meaning, you might ask each other:

  • What do you remember about the holidays when you were growing up?
  • What were your family holiday traditions?
  • What family traditions have you adopted in your adult life?
  • Are there any traditions you want to add?
  • Is there anything you wish had been done differently a the holidays?

Dr. John Gottman has suggested that healthy relationships have daily rituals of connection that begin and end each day. Some couples might also have a weekly ritual that determines how weekends are spent or what is eaten for dinner on a Friday night. Building rituals and creating habit in your connection are a part of growing a strong bond in your relationship.

Relationship Roles

Whether you‘re dating, pre-married or newlywed, you have the opportunity to explore the roles, goals and symbols in your relationship. When talking about roles, you might discuss things like:

  • What do the roles of each partner look like in the relationship?
  • If you‘re in a heterosexual relationship, what does the meaning of husband and wife look like? For gay and lesbian relationships, and for alternative relationship configurations, what is the expectation of each individual in the relationship dynamic?
  • Do you have assumptions about each of these roles?
  • What did the roles of your parents or caregivers look like in your family home?
  • What is similar between your expectations and family experiences of roles and your relationship with your partner?
  • What is different between your expectations and family experiences of roles and your relationship with your partner?

In the context of the holidays, it can be helpful to talk about:

  • Is there a gift budget, and how is it determined?
  • Who will do the gift shopping?
  • Who will do the gift wrapping?
  • If cooking is involved, who will cook for the events?
  • Who will clean up afterwards?

These conversation starters can help you explore the roles in your relationship. Discussing roles can help you to set realistic expectations of one another, which can help to reduce relationship stress during the holiday season.

Relationship Symbols and Goals

As you create shared meaning and explore goals and symbols, you can discuss what “home,” “sex,” “money” and “play” mean to each of you. During the holiday season, you can discuss what celebrations mean to you, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or another religious holiday. Perhaps you both observe different religious holidays, or you‘re nondenominational. Or maybe you have other considerations. Discussing how to approach festivities during the holidays can be especially helpful to avoid conflict and set expectations.

Concepts like “Christmas” and “New Year’s Eve” are symbols for broader ideas. Do you have goals and dreams for these ideas? Discussing the ideas and dreams you have about the present, as well as the future can help to bring these symbols to life and deepen your understanding of one another. Do you have a common dream or vision for the holidays? Your goals might include volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating to a charity during the holidays. Implementing your shared goals during the holidays can help you have more purpose within your relationship and strengthen your bond.

Creating shared meaning invites cooperation and understanding into your relationship. So many of our expectations in romantic relationships are based on implicit assumptions. Intentionally discussing relationship rituals, roles, goals and symbols for the holidays can help to clarify expectations and fill in any gaps. While it might be difficult to explore, and even a little stressful to discuss, creating shared meaning can be one of the most rewarding experiences that enhances your holiday. Why not try talking about these ideas with your partner?

It could very well be the best gift you give your relationship.

Click here for FREE Couple Holiday Traditions conversation starters!

Are you interested in enhancing your relationship? Ashley Greensmyth and Parallel Wellness will be hosting a 6-hour workshop across two days in March 2020 based on Dr. John Gottman‘s best selling book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. To see event details and to register, click here.

Click here to learn more about my couples workshops.

You can learn more about Dr. John Gottman‘s work with research with couples by checking out the Gottman Institute at

Read about shared meaning family rituals at


[Editor's note: This blog written by Ashley Greensmyth is cross-posted at]

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