Where did you go for Thanksgiving? What are your plans for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Are your holidays normally an enjoyable time with family—a time you can laugh together, share together, and reflect on the goodness of God in your lives—or are your holidays a stress-inducing nightmare that you wish would end quickly. (Or maybe it’s a combination of both.) While we all dream of perfect, peaceful holidays, few find it.
When you marry someone, you marry into a whole other family. And with another family comes another set of holiday traditions, immediate in-laws, extended family, in-laws’ family, and an ever growing web of folks to accommodate in one way or another. The different demands and expectations that others place on a couple, or that a couple places on themselves, can set the stage for tension and conflict throughout the holiday season.
When Lisa and I first married and had no children, we were young and running on adrenaline and caffeine, so we raced from place to place during the holidays without much thought. Then babies came along—and everyone likes to see the new babies—but traveling with babies and toddlers is taxing. And as time marched on, nephews (we don’t have any nieces) grew up, moved around, and married. With each new phase of life, new circumstances were introduced. This Thanksgiving, if we’d been able to get just our parents, their children, and their spouses and immediate in-laws’ families together it would have incorporated over fifty people and crossed at least ten different cities and six different states. (And our family isn’t that big compared to many others.)
The holidays can be a festive time, but they can also be a time of anger, conflict, and stress in a marriage. So how can a husband and wife protect their marriage, honor their families, and still enjoy the holidays? Every couple has to figure out how to navigate the waters themselves depending on their circumstances, but here are a few general thoughts:
- First, create your own traditions and guard them zealously. If Santa comes to your house on Christmas morning, don’t let someone guilt you into giving that up. Set boundaries together long before the holiday season hits, deciding where you will and will not go and what you will and will not do, and stick to those boundaries.
- Second, recognize that things may have to change as your family changes. Kids grow up. In-laws are introduced into the equation. Jobs change. People move. Health changes. Seek some normalcy, but recognize that life happens.
- Third, don’t become what you say you don’t like. Think about the things that cause you stress during the holidays, and don’t do the same thing to others. If you felt guilty every time you heard “I guess they just won’t get to see their grandparents on Christmas day,” then don’t do the same to your kids. If you hated running to a dozen different places, don’t ask your family to spend the entire holiday on the road. And certainly, don’t use manipulative tactics to satisfy your own selfishness.
- And finally, don’t miss out on the spiritual blessing of the holiday. The word “holiday” means “holy day.” Make it a priority to let the holidays include at least some time of spiritual renewal for you and your spouse together.
Nobody wants to offend and alienate family, especially during a time that’s supposed to be joyful and peaceful. Ultimately you have to decide if you are going to be angry and resentful (at your spouse, at your in-laws, or at anyone else), or if you’re going to let the holiday be a blessing to you and to your marriage.
What does God want from my marriage?
A Weekend Marriage Enrichment Retreat
Friday-Sunday, March 7-9, 2014
Edgewater at the Aquarium Hotel and Conference Center
Limited to 30 couples
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info