We all know how the song goes. As we move, full speed ahead into Thanksgiving and then Christmas, it's considered to be "the most wonderful time of the year" for so many. Still, if we're gonna get really real about it all, preparing for the holiday season can be one of the most stressful times of the year too; especially when it comes to married folks who are trying to proactively care for their relationship, maintain their daily lifestyle and figure out how they are gonna pull each special day off with as little drama as possible.
So, whether this is your first year as husband and wife or your 20th, I thought I would share some tips that I offer up to some of my clients whenever they find themselves looking for ways to navigate through the holiday season, so that there can literally be peace on earth (at least in your house) well through New Year's Day. That said, if there are seven things that you and yours definitely need right about now, these would be it.
1. A Budget
It's not a secret that I don't observe holidays, so that might play a role in what I'm about to say yet lawd, y'all — if there are two instances where I don't get the method in the madness behind going way over budget, it's when it comes to weddings and the holiday season. Spending hundreds or thousands more than you can afford and/or going over your credit card limit for literally just a few minutes of "oohing" and "ahhing" — is it worth it come a month later and you to figure out which bills to dodge?
I recently read that 86 percent of millennials overspent last holiday season and damn, that was during the peak of our pandemic. Meanwhile, a leading cause of divorce continues to be financial stress. Marriage can be challenging enough without choosing to do things that will only cultivate more strain. So, if you and yours don't already have a budget for this holiday season, don't you think now would be as good a time as any to put one together? Amen.
Doing things like coming up with a mutually agreed-upon limit, listing expenses beforehand, deciding to only use cash (meaning no credit cards), taking advantage of online Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, and not waiting until the last minute (we tend to be more reckless with our spending whenever we are rushing) are just a few ways that you can pull this particular "relational benefit" off.
2. “Honesty Hour”
If one of you doesn't like each other's parents. If one of you doesn't want to do the whole "holiday scene" this year. If one of you is sick of asking for a particular item as a present, only for your spouse to do whatever they want to do anyway, this would be the time to bring it up — lovingly and gingerly, of course, but up nonetheless. While some people seem to think that internalizing real feelings is the way to go in order to "keep the peace," really all it ends up doing is delaying the time for when someone ends up snapping…BIG TIME.
One of the best things about marriage is you signed up to join your life with someone who you can be your complete and total self with — this includes when it comes to sharing your very real feelings, whether it's easy to hear or not. Besides, fake grinning through Thanksgiving or passively aggressively taking out your frustration on your partner during Christmas because you never said what you were thinking or worried about beforehand is unfair to them and your relationship. A part of what comes with love is honesty. As it relates to whatever is potentially or currently stressing you out, state your case. Also, determine to be a safe place to do the same in return. It's only right.
3. United Boundaries
A united front. Have mercy, can we get couples to have this more often? This is actually a part of the reason why I said that you and yours need to be completely honest with each other; it's because, that way, you can both share your feelings and concerns and then come up with what boundaries need to be set so that you both can feel good — or at least better — about what could cause one or both of you to be anxious or upset otherwise. If you can't stand your mother-in-law, you and your husband need to decide how long she can stay. If he doesn't want to go to every holiday work event, you and your husband need to talk about which one(s) is the most important to you. If there are new traditions that the both of you have created, ones that your family members don't care for, you need to stand firm together so that you're not gaslit or manipulated into backing down when it comes to people trying to tell you what to do in your own house.
Sometimes, the cause of aftermath contention between married couples, following the holidays, is one or both individuals feeling like the other didn't totally have their back. Chile listen, if there is one time, especially when firm boundaries need to be set and honored by both spouses, it's during the holidays. And it's so much harder to feel disrespected or overlooked when your partner stands firm with you. Make sure that you both are on the same page, OK? Excellent.
4. Time Off of the (Holiday) Grid
Let me tell it, one of the things that adds so much pressure to people during this time of the year is you've basically got 4-6 weeks to cram in so much of what you typically don't give much credence to until that window of time arrives. Then, all you're thinking about is spending money, cleaning the house, and getting your mind right for having company. And the more incessant focus that you put into something, the more anxious it can cause you to become. That's why it's always a good idea to create a weekly checklist of things that need to be taken care of in preparation for each holiday.
Also, make sure to schedule in some time when you and your spouse are doing anything and everything but talking about or paying for holiday-related stuff. Whenever I'm talking to engaged couples, I tell them the same thing about weddings. Special occasions should always be seen as a part of your world…never all of it.
5. Steal Away Moments
Something that I oftentimes recommend to couples who have kids is, if they are hosting family members in their home, they need to take advantage of that and either go on a date one night or even book a hotel room so that they can get some (I'm pretty sure) much-needed quality time in.
Listen, whether you adore or can't stand some of your (or his) relatives, I'm pretty sure a common ground that everyone has is love for your children. You can get a break from all parties involved by having them watch the kids so that you and yours can hang on, veg out or sex it all the way up.
6. Your Own Traditions
I know some married people who spend Christmas alone at home and then travel to see family the day after. I know some married people who don't observe Thanksgiving at all (because I agree with them that it is pretty Columbus Day 2.0 if you catch my drift) and instead hang out with family members on Black Friday. I know some married people who don't do the gift thing and give to those in need instead.
The bottom line here is, one of the many cool things about being married and having your own home is, you can have the biggest turkey or not one at all. You can have the biggest Christmas tree or not one at all. You can act like you are Christmas-on-crack or not observe at all. You can do gift exchanges on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, or heck, New Year's Eve or New Year's Day if you want, or nix gift-giving altogether. And you know what? The more you settle into the fact that you have the power to do the holidays however you want and that the only way you can really be "peer pressured" into following other people's traditions is if you allow that to happen, the more you can actually get excited around this time of year because so much of how you approach it is totally within your control.
Actor Jane Krakowski once said, "You can have a plan, but you have to be flexible. Every day is unpredictable, and you just have to go with the flow." Every day is unpredictable. Whew, can you just imagine how many marriages could be saved if folks stopped being so stuck on how they wish things would go and instead learned to adapt to how things are going?
If there's a common key to the success and longevity of serious relationships, it's the ability to compromise and you can't do that if you aren't a flexible person. Sure, making plans is fine. All I'm saying is, touch base with your spouse from time to time, just to make sure that both of you have resigned to control what you can control and then to kind of chill out and go with the flow beyond that.
Because no matter what, the holiday season is gonna happen and it's going to come and go, just like every other year. Being willing to adapt to shifts and changes can make the time so much easier — on you personally and on your relationship. Happy Holidays, y'all.
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