Let me be completely honest for a minute. I absolutely love the season we are entering into (minus the super freezing cold). I love everything about it – family, friends, gatherings, the laughs, the smells, the food, making memories – everything. This is always a time of reflection, purpose and joy.
Unfortunately, not all share that same sentiment. Over the last few weeks, I have been hearing the same similar story from couples. The holidays are stressful. They are filled with unspoken and unmet expectations, grief, loneliness, and way too much drama (among other things). If there is ever a time family dysfunction is highlighted, it is during this season. I wish I could make light of it, but sadly, this is reality for many.
I would be curious how many of you have holiday conversations with your spouse that begin with “You know your dad never _____________,” or “Your mom always ____________.” You state, “This is always what happens! You always say you’re going to do _____________ and it never happens. This is why I don’t like going to _____________!”
Your Approach as a Couple This Season
Family celebrations of the holidays are usually full of some sort of tradition(s) or rituals. A lot of times, couples bend over backwards to try to make every family member happy and ensure no feelings are hurt (this is impossible by the way). Below are 4 steps to pursue a holiday season you will enjoy and even grow closer to each other and your families.
1. Your Spouse Comes First
I know I have posted this before: “Your loyalty to your spouse surpasses any loyalty to your parent or grandparent or family member.” Can/will/should there be exceptions? Of course, I’ll talk about that later.
If you haven’t already, sit down with your spouse and really explore what the holidays mean to them. I don’t mean what they like and dislike, but what is truly significant to them and aim to honor their heart and position. This goes for both of you. Explore it together.
You both vowed and committed your life to your spouse, not your family member(s). This is in every season of life, not just the holidays. You are one, take every opportunity to live that out with and for each other. This especially means protecting your spouse at all times (i.e. “WE” made this decision). As a couple, it’s great to talk about the traditions you both want to have apart of your own family and create your own shared rituals.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
“…’Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.””
2. Establish and Practice Healthy Boundaries
Let me clarify on one thing – this season is not about you. Well… it’s not fully about you. As mentioned above, how many of you reading this are completely exhausted because you feel obligated to keep traditions alive and make everybody happy, yet feel defeated when (family member) complains or (family member) passive-aggressively makes some off-hand comment about whatever? See… you’re exhausted already and Thanksgiving is 2 weeks away! Ugh!
This season is truly not about you and making you happy, but sacrifice should not come at a cost to your marriage or your family. You both know your families, decide as a couple what you are comfortable with and the boundaries that you will hold to in a respectful way. Authors John Townsend and Henry Cloud of the book “Boundaries” have a good reminder:
“Realize that the person who is angry at you for setting boundaries is the one with the problem. If you do not realize this, you may think you have a problem. Maintaining your boundaries is good for other people; it will help them learn what their families of origin did not teach them: to respect other people.” Read more.
3. Be Flexible
Loyalty to your spouse and establishing healthy boundaries does not mean you’re ridgid or inflexible. Remember? (This season is not about you) but that does not mean you cannot ask for your boundaries and wishes to be honored and respected.
Certain circumstances do come up. Weather, illness, loss, unforeseen circumstances, etc. This comes all the way back to point number one – your spouse comes first. Flexibility allows space, space allows wisdom and discernment to any situation, it shows love and patience in the midst of something that is already difficult or stressful.
4. Be Thankful/Grateful
Aim this season to say “thank you.”
“Thank you for waiting on us. We appreciate it.” Instead of, “Sorry for being late.”
“Thank you for being flexible with our schedule. We loved spending time with you.” Instead of, “Sorry we have to leave so soon.”
Consistently express (out loud) appreciation to your spouse. Especially when you know the holidays can be stressful and full of anxiety. When you both enter into this season looking towards each other, regardless of outcome, you two are whole and connected. You honor and cherish each other, you both jointly decided boundaries for yourself and your family, you were flexible and understanding, and thankful.
Enter this holiday season together with confidence.