The holiday season might mean toys and treats for children. But for adults, the stresses that come with the holidays can affect relationships in a way that’s anything but merry.

Extra responsibilities and familial obligations can weigh heavily on couples during the holiday season, especially when children are involved. Parents often put their children ahead of their marital relationship. Money is frequently mismanaged in a season where expectations are heightened under a pressing sense of urgency.

“There are so many additional stresses for those in relationships during the holiday season,” explained Andrew Daire, executive director of the University of Central Florida Marriage & Family Research Institute.

“Financial times are tough, and you’ve got additional family stressors,” he said. “In trying to handle that stress, unfortunately the person closest to you tends to get the venom that’s spewed out, even if it’s not directed toward them.”

Daire suggests taking a time-out from the hustle and bustle and reflecting on what makes relationships special.

“Especially when you’re heading into a stressful time, it’s important to slow down, remove the sense of urgency and focus on the positive things about those around you,” he said. “Decrease the criticism, and focus on the power of appreciation.”

It’s a concept that Daire and a team of UCF researchers and graduate students relay to married and unmarried couples throughout the year. Through the MFRI, the team teaches couples how to strengthen and maintain healthy relationships.

The institute is part of UCF’s College of Education graduate counseling program. The institute offers a variety of free services and resources for couples and singles, including counseling, education workshops and research opportunities.

Earlier this year the institute received a grant for a new program, Project T.O.G.E.T.H.E.R., which will begin providing relationship education to the community in January. The research study is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Family Assistance.

The focus of Project T.O.G.E.T.H.E.R. is different from traditional counseling in that it focuses on preventing stress and conflict by teaching strategies for healthy and strong relationships.

The project is geared toward low- to moderate-income individuals and couples with or without children. Participation in study-related research and workshops is free. Childcare and meals also are provided at no cost by the institute.

Registration for Project T.O.G.E.T.H.E.R. is ongoing. Sign up at or by calling 407-823-1748.