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How to Navigate a Toxic Relationship During the Holidays

The holiday season can be a joyous time, but it can also be incredibly stressful. Between family gatherings, financial strain, and coordinating travel plans, the stress of the season can make anyone feel overwhelmed — especially for survivors of relationship violence. 

Navigating a toxic relationship can feel like walking on eggshells anytime of the year, let alone during the holidays, where money squirmishes or tense family get-togethers can be particularly triggering. 

Common Triggers During the Holidays

If you’re in a toxic relationship, here are some common triggers to be aware of this holiday season:

Financial worries

According to a recent American Psychological Association (APA) study, 72 percent of Americans reported feeling stressed about money at least some time in the prior month. The financial strain of holiday shopping only exacerbates this stress, increasing the likelihood of arguments and other forms of relationship violence. 

Child visitation

If you have children with a toxic partner but are separated or divorced, making visitation arrangements can be an emotionally charged ordeal. You strive to make the holidays special for your children, but with an abusive partner involved, it can be extremely stressful to leave your child with the abuser — especially if it’s an unsupervised visit.

Time spent alone with your partner

The need for power and control is what drives abusive partners. A common way abusers try to exert control is by isolating their partners from their friends and family. Even if you’re traveling to visit family during the holiday season, the time you spend alone with your partner may make you feel concerned for your safety.

Family gatherings

Whether a holiday gathering is with immediate or extended family (or both), get-togethers like these can place survivors of relationship violence in precarious positions where conflict is an all too real possibility.

Strategies to Mitigate Strife During the Holidays

For too many people in toxic relationships, the stressors associated with the holiday season can spur intense anxiety, dread, and uncertainty. 

But it’s important to know that you never have to go at it alone.

Here are a few strategies to help you cope with common holiday triggers so you can stay safe and centered:

Remove money from the equation

Connect with local resource centers that may offer free arts and crafts that make for thoughtful holiday gifts. Instead of material goods, consider gifting your family trips and experiences like a visit to a free local museum. If you’re expected to prepare a holiday dinner, team up with family and friends and throw a potluck to save money on food expenses.

Create a safety plan for child visitation

A detailed action plan can help ensure your child is safe when they visit your toxic partner. Your safety plan will vary depending on your unique situation, but it should include essential information for your children to know like:

  • Who they should contact in an emergency
  • Where they should go when a situation escalates
  • Which rooms in your home are the safest while interacting with your toxic partner

Minimize time alone with your partner

While you can’t avoid being alone with your toxic partner during the busy holiday season, you can feel empowered to minimize these potentially volatile situations. Find ways to get out of your house and away from your partner: go for walks, do some holiday shopping, drop off the dry cleaning. 

Reduce triggers at family gatherings

An effective way to minimize the risk of blow-ups from your toxic partner is to work with your family or friends to reduce triggers at gatherings. You know your relationship best and how to stay safe during family visits. Abusers often feel more emboldened to lash out in domestic environments — throw the balance of power in your favor by holding family gatherings in public places like restaurants or parks.

If your toxic partner gets more abusive when they drink alcohol, ask family members to refrain from serving adult beverages during get-togethers. If you feel safer when surrounded by family, insist that a trusted relative is by your side during the entire visit. Your loved ones can be a vital support system during holiday gatherings  — don’t be afraid to lean on them.

Remember: You Never Have to Go At It Alone

The holiday season can place an extraordinary amount of stress on an already stressful situation, but you always have a support system with Human Options. If you need help connecting with resources or simply a compassionate ally to talk to, call our 24-hour toll free hotline at 877-854-3598. 


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