Maybe it’s the drop in temperature, the return of Elf marathons or the smell of cinnamon-scented candles, but there’s something about this time of year that tends to raise relationship expectations. And if we’re single, this time of year can leave us wishing we had someone to enjoy the season with, “a plus one” for many of us. The interesting thing about looking for a “plus-one” to bring to your company holiday parties, friends-givings, or even home to the parents is that, unfortunately, many of these people end up sticking around for a good time, not a long time. Whether you’re single, just starting to date, or have been in a relationship for a while, there’s a lot that you can learn about your relationship and yourself during these winter months.

Single, but ready to date

Some people are not bothered by their single status around the holidays, in fact they may even choose to end a relationship before the season. However, more often than not, a lot of people feel the inclination to find someone to cozy up with in order to avoid loneliness at all costs.

While there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to be alone, this can become a problem if this is your number one motive in starting a relationship. Instead, try thinking about what’s motivating you to look for a new relationship, why the timing is right now, and double check that it has nothing to do with the date on the calendar or the weather outside. When you go home and see your family members coupled up with their significant others, instead of letting loneliness or jealousy creep through, try seeing this from a more positive angle. Maybe you’ll feel inspired by your grandparents who have been happily married for 60 years, or perhaps you’ll feel a little hope from your brother who found an incredible partner after endless toxic relationships. Use this time to reflect on what’s important to you in a relationship, and what kind of person you could potentially see yourself with 60 years down the line.

In a new-ish relationship

The holidays can be a very different experience if you are dating or in a new relationship, and may even bring on some added stresses. Should I bring them home to meet my parents? How nice of a present should I get them? Should we even do presents? These are some of the many questions that may pop into your head – and trust me – you are not alone. The holiday season can be an extremely fun time for new couples, the problem is that sometimes people jump into the relationship too soon or think that their relationship is more serious than it actually is because of all the romance surrounding them and that Mariah Carey song that plays all the time. It’s important to stay grounded and realistic with where you and your partner are at.

Holidays provide an opportunity to visit your partner’s families and friends together, and if it feels like the right step for your relationship, you should take it on with confidence! However, if you don’t feel that your relationship is ready to take this step, there’s nothing wrong with spending the holidays separately and with your own friends or families. You can even have a mini holiday afterward with just the two of you. Most importantly, don’t let the holidays get the best of you by assuming that your partner is ready to bring you home. Prepare yourself to not get an invitation and if you do, be excited about it but don’t expect it. Along with impatience, another huge mistake couples tend to make during this time of year is trying too hard. Don’t feel pressured to spend half your paycheck to buy your partner a bunch of presents. More often than not, especially in young relationships, anyone would appreciate the quality time of being with their loved one during the holidays and receiving a gift that has a lot of thought behind it, not just a hefty price tag. Addressing the awkward gift situation head-on is always great, too — set proper expectations by suggesting that maybe you either just stick to small stocking stuffer-type stuff, or just going out for a nice dinner together instead.

In a long-term, committed relationship

For those veteran couples out there who have been through the holiday motions before, you know what this time of year is like and how it can either add tension to a relationship or it can be a special experience. This year, take full advantage of what this time of year can teach you about yourself and your relationship! There is so much opportunity to turn a stressful situation into a chance to learn and strengthen your relationship. Be emotionally generous with each other, and think about what would make your partner happy. For example, it’s hard enough if you have divorced parents and have to divide your time between both of them, but when you add another person to mix, this situation gets even more complicated. How could you make things easier? Even if it requires a bit of sacrifice, it’s worth it. Being able to compromise and come to a solution that you both are happy with will only make you appreciate each other more and prove the strength of your relationship. If your love gets really stressed out buying gifts, take the pressure off by suggesting that you just donate to a favorite charity — or plan a vacation together instead as a present to each other.

No matter where your relationship status stands this holiday season, try to look past  all of the heightened romance expectations and figure out what’s most important to you. The winter months provide a great opportunity to do a little soul searching, alone or as a couple.