Will Christmas spending ruin your relationship?

Sarah Coles
upset looking couple next to christmas tree
upset looking couple next to christmas tree

In our imagination, Christmas brings us together. We lavish gifts on our loved ones to demonstrate how much we care for them, and they are deliriously happy with our incredible thoughtfulness and generosity. In reality, unfortunately, one in five couples say that the cost of Christmas has caused problems in their relationship. It's hardly surprising, because a new study shows that we're making a terrible hash of the whole thing.

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The study, by online reselling site Ziffit found that at quarter of people are struggling with money worries this Christmas - blowing their December wages early or using a credit card to make ends meet. It's the time of year when we're four times more likely to go into debt.

A few years ago family law firm Seddons studied just how many relationships were brought to breaking point by festive spending. It discovered that the average couple will have four rows a day during December, and that one in five couples actually consider splitting up during the festive period.

While family logistics and workloads were responsible for many of the rows, the most popular issue causing disharmony in the home was money.

Why we row

The sheer scale of the cost is bound to be a major issue, but it's not the only one. No couple shares exactly the same approach to money, and this will be amplified by the festive period. Buying joint presents means endless ongoing arguments about whether you can afford to spend so much, and arguments will be restarted by every single item of festive food and drink, and every moment of celebration.

Then there's the fact that we read so much into Christmas presents. It means some people will be pressured into spending more than they can afford, to avoid insulting their other half. Others will keep their eye on the purse strings, and offend their partner with a gift that seems to show how little they think of them.

Once we have overspent, it brings in a whole new array of things to argue about. You can fall out over whose fault the overspending was, you can row about everything you buy while you are carrying festive debt, and you can even argue about whether you have borrowed the money wisely.

It's no wonder it sucks the joy out of Christmas for many people. And it's no wonder that January remains a peak time for people to enquire about divorce.

What can you do?

Fortunately, there are some things you can do in order to keep disharmony to a minimum.

1. Think before you do anything at all
Family wealth mentor Diana Chambers says we all have different feelings, perspectives and beliefs about money. Some people feel that money is about security, some are focused on staying in control. Meanwhile others may be entirely focused on what money brings them: the joy and status conferred by spending it. You first need to understand your own attitude, so you can appreciate why, for example, you get so upset if you cannot control your partner's overspending.

2. Get to understand your partner's approach
Chambers says we must be aware of how our perspective differs from those around us. It's not that one of us is right and the other is wrong, it's that we need to appreciate how the other person feels.

3. Learn to talk constructively
It's not about apportioning blame and venting frustration: positive conversations come by expressing the emotional impact of what has happened. So phrases like 'I can't believe you bought an Xbox, you're an imbecile", should make way for phrases like: "When you overspent the budget by £100 it made me very stressed about paying the gas bill in January, can you understand my concerns?"

4. Try to solve problems
Often it's not too late. If you have bought an Xbox as a present and you cannot afford it, you can get a refund and start again. Just stay constructive, and open, express that this would be your solution to the problem, and ask if they have an alternative solution that they would prefer.

5. Make deliberate decisions
Overspending is far easier when we allow ourselves to act without thinking. Before every purchase, consider whether it's a good idea, think about how it will make your other half feel, and then make a choice. If you find yourself regularly actively deciding you're more interested in a new Xbox than your partner, then maybe that's why you're not getting on so well.