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Watch out for flirty friendships that become intensified by all the holiday exuberance, says Ian Kerner. A kiss under the mistletoe can easily lead to more.
By Sex therapist and relationship counselor
TODAY contributor
updated 12/4/2008 3:48:04 PM ET 2008-12-04T20:48:04

Every year, right around this time, I start to turn into the grinch who stole Christmas.

I get moody, anxious, irritable and morose, and I start to sound like Andy Rooney.

Maybe my “inner grinch” stems from the fact that, for the last 10 years, I’ve been celebrating the holidays the way my wife, Lisa, wants to celebrate them, which is, let’s just say, not necessarily my way.

She’s traditional and I’m, well, nontraditional. She grew up in a big family that took Christmas very seriously — giant tree, lots of presents, tons of family and food over a multiday period — whereas I grew up an only child in New York City with a single mother.

Not that Mom and I didn’t enjoy the holidays. We celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah and were early adopters of the concept of “Christmaskah.” But, in general, the holidays were pretty quiet: On Christmas Day I’d eagerly open some presents and then we’d head out for Chinese food and go stand in line for the 3 p.m. showing of a new movie: Two particular highlights were Lucille Ball’s “Mame” in 1974 and “Tootsie” in 1982.

Now, as a married man with two young boys and a wife brimming with yuletide cheer, my holiday seasons couldn’t be more different. No movies, no Chinese food, to say the least. Sure, we still celebrate “Christmaskah,” but the Hanukkah part is pretty easy: We basically light some candles over an eight-day period and spin dreidels.

The Christmas part is a different story.

It starts with the tree — a massive undertaking to select, transport, install and bedeck. And then it lurks like Bigfoot in our apartment, taking up space and shedding needles. The DustBuster becomes permanently attached to my arm.

Wouldn’t a small artificial tree suffice? Wouldn’t it be green to go a little less green? And with the economy in a deep thaw for potentially years to come, wouldn’t an artificial tree ultimately be cheaper in the long run?

Speaking of expenses, that’s another sore subject. I wouldn’t say I’m a Scrooge, but every year we say we’ll buy gifts on a budget, and every year it still ends up costing way more money than we intended.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that Christmas isn’t just a day, but rather a three-day event that typically includes traveling to my in-laws on the 24th and staying through the 26th. Don’t get me wrong, I love my in-laws and my extended family, but a little piece of me longs for that Chinese restaurant and movie.

This year we’re going to be hosting Christmas at our place and I’m bracing myself for a steady stream of family, food and dirty dishes. (Did I mention that I’m a neat freak who hates to clean, and that my wife, while sharing my aversion to housework, is also a foodie who loves to plan, prepare and partake in complicated meals?)

All things considered — the tree, the money, the cooking and cleaning — getting through the holidays this year will not only require lots of spiked eggnog, but also lots of communication with my wife around some core holiday differences.

With that in mind, keep an eye out for these “triggers” that can easily hijack emotions, escalate tensions and put a serious damper on all that good cheer:

  • Money. It's the No. 1 cause of divorce, and the No. 1 cause of anxiety around the holidays, especially for men. From the pressure to buy you that special, expensive gift to all the various presents for family and friends, many men are dreading how the holidays will hit their bottom line. So create a budget now, agree to it, and really try to do your best to stick to it.

  • Extended family. During the holidays we're often thrust together for several days with our extended family. Conflicts are bound to occur, and issues that are already present are bound to become intensified. Couples often complain to me post-holiday about partners who didn't stand up for them. During the holidays, one of the best gifts you can give to your partner is to protect him/her from toxic family members and defend him/her during any clashes that might occur.

  • Mistletoe. If you're in a less than perfect relationship, it's easy to get down on yourself and feel like everyone's happy but you. With lots of holiday parties and alcohol flowing, it's no wonder that so many affairs occur around the holidays. Watch out for flirty friendships that become intensified by all the holiday exuberance. A kiss under the mistletoe can easily lead to more.

  • Sex. Or should I say lack of sex. Stress and anxiety put a major damper on libido, as do overeating and overdrinking. As a sex therapist, I see countless couples getting stuck in holiday sex ruts, which spill over into the new year. So this year give yourself the gift of nookie.

Fingers crossed, my inner grinch will stay inner this holiday season.

Ian Kerner is a sex therapist, relationship counselor and New York Times best-selling author of numerous books, including "She Comes First" and the soon-to-be-published "Love in the Time of Colic: the New Parents' Guide to Getting it On Again." He was born and raised in New York City, where he lives with his wife and two sons. He can be reached at www.IanKerner.com

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