Your Holiday Handbook of Love

This joyful season can include relationship land mines. Here's a road map to keep your sanity intact.

[This article was originally published in the December 2013 issue of Essence Magazine.]

This joyful season can include relationship land mines. Here's a road map to keep your sanity intact.

IF YOU'RE SINGLE...

Work the scene. "Go to as many get-togethers as possible," advises Yvonne K. Fulbright, Ph.D., coauthor of The Better Sex Guide to Extraordinary Lovemaking (Quiver). "Your network is still key to meeting somebody special."

Keep your vixen zipped. Open bar, holiday cheer—it's so tempting to let loose at the company party. Treat the staff bash like a lunch meeting, not a night out, so you aren't Monday's hot topic.

This Christmas, resist opening the ex files. When Donny croons, it's tempting to reminisce about old flames. "There's a reason that person is in your past," warns Sherry L. Blake, Ph.D., psychologist and author of The Single-Married Woman (Touchstone Psychological Services). Remember why you parted.

Say "Oh, oh, oh!" Leave 2013 with a bang—partner optional. "Splurge on yourself," Fulbright encourages. "Get the vibrator you've always wanted or your dream lingerie."

IF YOU'RE IN A NEW RELATIONSHIP...

Set your expectations. "The anxiety starts before Christmas," Blake says. "We anticipate what the holidays should be and are disappointed when it's not the story-book." If your man isn't adventurous January through November, don't expect a surprise excursion. And that's okay. Talk to him about your fantasies and bringing them to life.

Identify the characters. As we awaited dessert at the family dinner, I was served 16 bars from one of my man's relatives, a rapper named Starr. Most of us have eccentric family members who are routine to our clan but can surprise newcomers. "Prep visitors on family dynamics," Blake says.

Remember: It's just dinner. "Meeting Mom in 2013 isn't what it was in 1973," says Tony A. Gaskins, Jr., coauthor of Mrs. Right: A Woman's Guide to Becoming and Remaining a Wife (Soul Writers). "Mom will treat you like you're special even if she just saw a different date last month."

Clock off. We understand wanting to get ready for 2014, but don't be so busy that you miss the excitement of the holidays. "You work hard enough the rest of the year. Use the break to grow closer to your partner," advises Gaskins.

IF YOU'VE BEEN TOGETHER A WHILE...

Keep date night. In the whirlwind of activity, be sure to carve out couple time. "Get silly and kinky," Fulbright suggests. "Try role-playing, like dressing up as an elf and saying, 'Ho, ho, ho!' "

Plan ahead on where you lay your head. Nothing can kill the mood quicker than the question of where you two will be sleeping. Don't assume that because you've created a home with your partner of seven years you'll be sharing a bedroom. "Avoid conflict by asking if your preferred sleeping arrangements are welcome. Check into a hotel if not," Blake says.

Pick your presents. Save both you and your honey the heartache of a disappointing gift by making a list and tweeting it twice. Create a Pinterest board of all the items you like and share with those you love.

Assess your relationship. Facebook experiences the highest amount of breakups a few weeks before Christmas. Sometimes the best gift to yourself is letting go of unhappiness and making room for love. "You do not have to enter a new year with old baggage," Blake counsels.

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