Don't let the stress of the holidays put a strain on your relationship.

By By Rachel Sussman as told to Mirel Ketchiff
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Photo: wonderful world A/Shutterstock

This season can be incredibly romantic-or stressful. Shape Brain Trust member Rachel Sussman, a relationship therapist in New York City, shares her strategies for coming out on top.

Why are the holidays so emotionally charged?

You're traveling, seeing family, buying presents, worrying about money. It's exciting but also taxing. Once the festivities arrive, couples say they feel happier-all the anxiety culminates in a positive bonding experience. But the lead-up is stressful, and that can cause friction. (Related: Stop Stress In Just 1 Minute with These Simple Strategies)

What can couples do to tap into the happy vibes and avoid fighting?

Ask each other, "What are your expectations of the holidays? What are your expectations of me? What are you looking forward to? What are you dreading?" Have some sort of code word that will remind your partner when tensions start running high that "Hey, we talked about this, and we agreed not to get pulled in. Let's go back to the plan." This way, you feel you're on the same team.

Finally, make your own tradition. See a holiday show, invite friends over for a special dinner, go sledding. The couples that tell me they love the holidays tend to have celebratory things they look forward to. (Good news if you're single and traveling for the holidays: One In Every 50 Travelers Finds the Love of Their Life While on a Flight)

How can couples resist holiday stress?

Whatever the two of you do during the rest of the year, do it even more now. If you relieve stress by working out, exercise more.

Have an exit plan too. Visiting family? Rent a car so you two can spend some time on your own. Having escape routes allows you to continue feeling in control, which makes you enjoy all your relationships more. (Related: Here's How to Turn Your Stress Into Positive Energy)