No matter which of the winter holidays you celebrate, it’s likely that you and your partner deal with a lot of pressure at this time of year. So much is expected of you at work, home and in the community that you may feel you’re running a marathon from Thanksgiving right through New Year’s Day.

To get through it all, you need to rely on each other. But can your marriage stand the test?

It really depends on how healthy your relationship is right now – and how mindful you both can be in working out the inevitable conflicts.

When comfort and joy are hard to find

If this has been a rough year for your relationship, you’re probably feeling anything but festive this month. Couples who were engaged in major conflicts before the holiday season arrived will find themselves even farther apart right now. You may be struggling to reach agreement on:

Holiday expenses. This is an especially hot issue if one of you insists on going all-out with gifts, decorations and entertaining and the other wants a more modest celebration. Disagreements will be even more heated if money is tighter than usual.

Family demands. You may be faced with competing family get-togethers, wondering which to attend and which to skip. If you’re already having trouble working out everyday issues, this will be even tougher – especially if your parents, siblings or in-laws tend to feel jealous and hurt if you can’t accept every invitation.

Travel plans. If you’re going away for the holidays, there will be extra pressure to get everything done before you hit the road. Year-end deadlines at work and added social obligations may claim the free time you need to pack, plan and coordinate. If kids are involved, the challenges will multiply, causing tempers to flare.

If things are already tense between you, how will you manage?

Good question, because the holidays can be a minefield for your marriage – especially if you are already feeling angry, mistrustful or disappointed by your mate. Those twinkling lights may feel like a glaring indictment of everything that feels broken, convincing you there’s no hope for improvement.

But I disagree. In the three decades I’ve been working with married couples of all kinds, I’ve seen people dig deep and find the resources to meet an incredible array of challenges – including the ones we face during the holidays.

Here are some suggestions you and your mate can use to cope with the pressures of the season.

Stay in touch with your feelings. When we’re busy, we often don’t realize that we’re about to snap. You can avoid unnecessary conflict if you take notice when you’re feeling tense, hungry or tired and give yourself a calming break.

Set aside time to make decisions together. Instead of trying to handle everything on the fly, carve out a few moments to discuss roles and expectations. You might begin by saying, “I would like to talk through the plans to visit your family, and also set a budget for gifts. I’m ready to listen to your ideas and work as a team.” This sets the stage for a positive dialogue that generates good ideas and eases overall stress.

Let the small stuff slide. Yes, it’s aggravating that your spouse is late again. Even worse that she forgot to pick up beer at the store. But you’ll definitely do better if you decide to skip the anger and blame. Find a way to solve the immediate problem: “Let’s have wine instead. I can pick up beer tomorrow.” If an issue like chronic lateness is really getting to you, make a note to self and address it when the holidays have passed.

Release your dreams of holiday perfection. If you have a strong desire for things to be “just so,” this may be the time to revisit your expectations. Simplifying your plans will reduce the level of tension you both feel. If you experience guilt when you think about relaxing your standards, realize what’s at stake here. Is it more important to bake and deliver 10 dozen cookies, or to look after your marriage (and yourself)?

Emergency help for couples who are truly struggling

You may be reading these tips, thinking to yourself, “This will never work. We can hardly talk to each other these days.”

If this is the case, you are acknowledging that your marriage may be in serious trouble. Maybe it’s time to look honestly at the situation and make a commitment to exploring the issues together.

One of the greatest gifts you can give each other is a marriage counseling intensive. This is a focused, fully personalized 2-day retreat from everyday life where you dive deep into the patterns within your marriage and discover where the true issues are. I will work closely with the two of you to make sure you both feel heard, supported and empowered to move toward meaningful change.

The techniques used in my couples intensives have been proven to reduce tension, increase understanding and build bridges between partners who still care about each other, but have grown apart. We will use time-tested principles to help you gain and practice new skills that can transform your relationship. In fact, many couples who’ve gone through the process tell me they’ve never felt more satisfied in their marriages.

Learn more here. And if you have other questions about improving your marriage, please reach out to me. The holidays are a busy time, but I’m here for you.