Self-care for couples: A holiday primer

self-care for couples
Illustrator: Julia Hanke

As all the songs purport, the holiday season is supposed to be full of cheer. However, holidays can also be stressful for many. Family gatherings, feelings of loneliness, money struggles, pandemic concerns, high expectations for happiness, and seasonal depression can all take a toll—both on ourselves and on our relationships.

Holiday-induced stress can lead to feelings of disconnection from yourself or the ones you love. Rest assured: there are plenty of ways for couples to stay grounded and minimize relationship strain—such as making self-care a priority.

“When people are low on self-care, they often show up irritable and unable to hold space for one another,” explains dating expert Amie Leadingham, adding that she defines self-care as a “mindful practice of prioritizing your mental and physical health, and having clear boundaries of when to say ‘no’ to things that do not make you happy.” 

So why practice self-care together as partners? Making self-care an intentional and even regimented process means that, “when stressors appear, couples can handle it and not get overwhelmed,” adds Leadingham.

Working on decreasing stress together can create more intimacy and trust. It may also facilitate a deeper sense of meaning that a material gift can’t provide. Self-care shows you prioritize your partner’s wellness, as well as your own. 

Self-care as the gift that keeps giving

If you’re new to thinking about self-care as a way to unwind together as partners, it’s important to note that self-care doesn’t need to look a certain way. What’s more essential is that the activity is done mindfully and honors your needs in the present moment

“Whether this means putting your phone down and taking a hot bath by yourself or going for a couples massage together, making your mental health a priority will create deeper intimacy in yourself and with your partner,” explains Leadingham. 

Consider this list of ideas for self-care dates that you can do together to stay centered and more deeply connected during the holiday season:

Practice yoga or meditation together. Taking a partner yoga or other type of yoga class can help both of you release tension and stress (and maybe even improve your sex life). If you don’t have access to an in-person yoga class, many free yoga classes or guided meditations are available on Youtube, such as the popular Yoga with Adrienne.

Get busy in the kitchen. What better way to break the tension than to break bread together? Focusing on ingredients, taste, and the process of cooking helps facilitate mindfulness, and the act of enjoying the meal together afterward can be a sensual and rewarding experience. 

Indulge in nature or long walks. Going for a hike before a big holiday gathering can be a great way to spend some peaceful quality time together before taking on the energy of a larger group. (Even if you can’t make it to a nature preserve, taking a long walk around the neighborhood can work wonders.)  

Unplug from devices. Studies show that smartphone use can lead to relationship dissatisfaction, so why not intentionally unplug for a set amount of time? When you stop scrolling, you can devote quality time to one another and connect on a deeper level. Whether you unplug and just lay together or cozy up and read a book, there’s something intimate about being quiet together without distractions. 

Pamper each other. Everyone needs pampering sometimes, especially during a stressful time or after a long week. Sometimes self-care for couples is simply knowing when you cannot take on any more tasks and need to unwind and indulge a bit.  To that end, maybe apply a face mask together, soak in a bubble bath, or order your favorite type of cuisine.

For other self-care date ideas, Leadingham suggests “playing a board game together; grabbing an intimacy question game and asking each other meaningful questions; curling up for a movie night together; or getting a couples massage.”

Employing self-care for couples during the holidays

According to Leadingham, it’s important not to wait until things get bad to engage in self-care. It’s vital to make sure each partner is practicing self-care frequently throughout the week, whether together or individually. From there, you can ramp it up depending on the level of stress around family or work obligations.

To that end, self-care during the holidays might mean intentionally planning how you’ll manage the chaos of events. For example, “if visiting family is a big stressor, then it is crucial to plan ahead for these stressors,” urges Leadingham. 

Having coping mechanisms at the ready—and discussing how to best support your partner in the moment—can make all the difference. “Get ahead of it by creating a plan when you or your partner gets triggered. Self-care could mean visiting family for two hours then leaving instead of staying the whole night,” says Leadingham. 

Though actively engaging in self-care can take conscious planning and effort, the results are well worth it. In the context of a relationship, self-care can create more intimacy between partners because it allows for a better understanding of each other’s needs and wants. Tapping into your respective needs (and honoring them) can ultimately help partners move through their stress together—especially at “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Craving true connection? If you’re ready to date like a human again, sign up for early access to the forthcoming Keepler dating app here.

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