The holidays aren’t always filled with peace on earth and goodwill toward man.
’Tis the season when couples are shoved headfirst into a land mine of potential relationship explosives that are ready to blow your foundation right out from under you.
A recent study shows the two weeks before Christmas isn’t just peak holiday season.
It’s also peak season for breakups.
Don’t panic; holidays don’t have to mean heartaches.
Here’s a simplified list of where the relationship IEDs may be buried this season, and how to avoid or defuse them before they blow:
Everybody loves presents.
What could possibly go wrong?
Your gifts are not on the same level.
You got him a nice tie, and he got you a diamond tennis bracelet.
He got you edible underwear, and you got him socks.
She got you the worst gift ever: a lottery ticket or a vacuum cleaner.
He got you the most inappropriate gift ever: a puppy (if you didn’t ask for it) or a ring (if you’re not ready for that).
Gift snafus don’t have to be a disaster.
Early in a relationship, it’s especially hard to know each other’s holiday traditions and standards.
Maybe your family goes all out at Christmas.
It’s a time to max out the credit cards and really show your love.
But maybe he was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, and he's really not used to giving gifts.
Or maybe after six weeks, you know this guy is "the one."
But, he’s more cautious and doesn’t want to go overboard until he’s sure this is it.
Whatever the gift, be gracious.
The ability of a person to shop for someone isn’t necessarily indicative of his or her level of affection.
Some people freeze up when trying to find that perfect present, while others feel too much pressure and shut down.
Some are just clueless.
But just because your someone can’t read your mind and pluck the ideal gift from your head like picking it from a catalog doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t love you enough.
Laugh it off and talk it out.
Maybe you’ll find he really doesn’t care that much, and his crappy, half-assed gift is your wake-up call to find someone who does.
Or maybe, she just panicked and grabbed the last Russell Stover box on the shelf because she couldn’t find that perfect something to show you how much she cares.
These issues tend to work themselves out.
By next year, you’ll either have broken up or have been together long enough to learn each other’s traditions and discuss tricky situations like this.
And then, you can start to create your own holiday traditions as a couple.
Holiday gatherings aren’t always a joyous reunion.
They can be a pressure cooker of tension, exacerbating years of stewing anger, resentment and guilt among families.
Your family members may not be on their best behavior when you bring home your SO, and she might get hit by the shrapnel of reignited gripes.
Or maybe, you decline a helping of his mama’s famous Jell-O salad, and she spends the rest of the meal making not-so-veiled comments about how much his last girlfriend loved her cooking.
But it’s not always family members who are the problem.
Maybe he sits in a corner ignoring your kooky but sweet aunt Hilda, no matter how much she tries to draw him out by telling him all about her Transcendental Meditation.
Maybe you get bent out of shape because she stays upstairs locked in your old bedroom instead of coming down for your cutthroat annual family poker game.
Family gatherings are tough on relationships even without all the added holiday stressors and simmering tensions.
Maybe your boyfriend is nervous about making a good impression, and that’s why he did his stupid Christopher Walken impression all throughout family dinner.
Maybe your girlfriend is shy or introverted, and that’s why she's hiding her face in her iPhone.
But you’re in a relationship with each other, not your families.
Do what you have to do to get through it, even if it means just gritting your teeth into something that looks like a smile.
Remember that the spirit of the holidays is forgiveness, charity and love.
You know those twinkling lights that are strung up everywhere you go this time of year?
Sometimes they can feel like a glaring spotlight, shining right into your relationship and lighting up every single crack, flaw and fault line like the Rockefeller tree.
There’s a reason studies show elevated incidents of anxiety, stress and depression this time of year.
Holiday shopping can add heavy pressure to already stressed-out lives.
Family gatherings can be fraught with tension.
Work responsibilities can add up with the looming specter of pre-vacation deadlines.
Meanwhile, TV shows, movies and Kay Jewelers ads are showing us the perfect lives that none of us actually have.
Put all that together, and you have a volatile chemical reaction just waiting to singe your eyebrows off.
Add in a less-than-ideal relationship status, and it’s no wonder things can get rocky.
Unless you had all these same doubts and resentments with your SO at the Fourth of July, Easter and last New Year’s (if you did, you’re way overdue to put this thing out of its misery), try not to make any major decisions about the two of you at this time of year.
Pressure and stress can affect even the best, healthiest relationships.
But how you handle that together is what strengthens you as a couple.
Take a breath, and take a break.
Make time for the two of you, even amidst the holiday crush.
If you’ve been arguing, try to let it simmer on a back burner like mulled cider, while you focus on happier things.
Watch something uplifting or silly, like "Love, Actually" and "Christmas Vacation," or volunteer together to help a less fortunate family to remind yourselves of all that you have.
And amid all the holiday pressure on the two of you, don’t forget to take time apart for yourself, too.
Go have brunch with your girlfriends while he unwinds by playing Xbox games all day.
Spend an afternoon reading or meditating, or leash up the dogs and head to the park.
After all, if your own batteries are dead, you’ll never have any juice to offer anyone else.