In the next few weeks we will experience Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. For some people reading that sentence causes a rise in blood pressure and immediate feelings of stress. You may be hosting family and friends in your home. Or perhaps you will be the guest in someone else’s home. What are some ways you can navigate the holidays well and actually strengthen your marriage?
1. Create reasonable expectations.
Perhaps you’ve dreamed of a special Christmas, the perfect gift, grateful children, or family conflicts that are resolved. When this doesn’t happen, you see that your dreams are not your reality and you are disappointed. As you prepare for the holidays, don’t over anticipate. Recognize that people may not respond as they should but that doesn’t have to ruin the holidays.
Instead, focus on the positive experiences around you. Concentrate on your response. Did you respond kindly and graciously? Be thankful for the relationships that are encouraging and processes that do work well. We’ve found it helpful to make a list, either verbally or on paper, of things we’re grateful for. Then we read it to each other or use it as a prayer to tell God what we’re thankful for. When we do this it may not change others, but it does change our outlook.
2. Do your advance work.
Early in our marriage, one of us worked for a congressman and so we had the opportunity to attend presidential events. In preparation for a President’s visit, the Advance Team would scope out a venue, they would know the fastest and most effective route to travel, and they would prepare for almost any scenario.
To de-stress the holidays, do your advance work as a couple. Can you and your spouse tackle some housework or cleaning together? Can you pack a few days before the trip especially if you have children? Would it make life easier if you baked or cooked some meals a couple of weeks before Christmas? Decorate early. Create a menu for meals. Buy (and use) paper plates for some meals. Plan to have your Christmas shopping done as early as possible. We like to shop for gifts throughout the year. Mail your presents early and order your Christmas cards in October if possible.
3. Don’t overspend.
Make a budget for gifts, eating out, decorations, and entertainment and then stick to it. Remember the consequences of over-spending don’t disappear with the holidays. Debt will follow you into the new year and the stress it creates may be costly to a marriage.
4. Stay rested.
This may sound impossible, but it’s not. Take advantage of opportunities to go to bed early, nap, or sleep in. Don’t feel like you have to participate in every family activity or event. Maybe the best decision you can make is to stay home and go to bed early while the rest of the family goes to a movie or sporting event. Perhaps you can do some quick cleaning or prepare a meal while the house is quiet. This is particularly important if you’re an introvert and just need some “down time” or if you have a baby. A couple years ago our family was together for Thanksgiving. All our kids decided they were going to go shopping late on Thanksgiving night, but we chose to go to bed and get some rest.
5. Engage with your spouse.
A wink across a room, a helpful hand, a kind word of encouragement, a private conversation before bed, or connecting sexually can de-stress your marriage. Sometimes even asking your spouse, “What was the best part of today?” or “How can I help you tomorrow?” can minimize stress and strengthen your communication. Take advantage of these opportunities so that you don’t drift apart over the holidays.
It’s our hope that these ideas will help you navigate the holiday season as you Build Your Marriage.