As the holidays approach, a lot of couples have a lot stress. Here are a few tips to make it through.
Here are some tips from Stugray: Stu is a Marriage Advocate, Voiceoverist & Host of Way Media Networks Night Show.
Tip #1: Always communicate.
Best times to communicate with your spouse during the holidays:
Before you get to the Christmas party (or everyone arrives at your house).
Before going, talk about the upcoming shindig. What will you or won’t you be talking about? How will you act around crazy Uncle Bob who likes to get sloshed and ask inappropriate questions? Remind one another that you’re husband and wife first. Parents second. Siblings and kids last.
During the festive gathering – checking in is good form.
You need to prioritize your marriage and family over extended family. For instance, if you know your child needs a nap in the afternoon to ensure that they won’t get overtired and cranky, that needs to be the priority. Establish the expectation when the party or event begins, and then honor that priority. Yes, it will be uncomfortable, especially if you haven’t done it before. But you’re a married person with a family now.
After you leave.
Have a recap conversation. What worked? What didn’t work? What did we learn this holiday visit?
Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. That’s true, especially if you have to live the same hellish holidays over and over.
Lisa and I realized that three things happen nearly every year when we get together with our in-laws:
1. Someone has some sort of car trouble.
2. A family member gets upset.
3. When even more extended family comes to visit, those visits take longer than we expect.
So, on a car ride home one post-Thanksgiving feast, we talked about each of those situations, and decided how we would deal with them in the future—together. It was a great conversation. Our visit had just happened and we were able to think about how to handle the issues in the future while they were still fresh.
Tip #2: Be flexible.
Families do things differently. Accept that.
My family Christmas consists of gathering the whole big clan in a small family room. Someone distributes trash bags to each family member for discarded wrapping paper. Another yells, “Go!” Then, we tear into the presents. It takes approximately 10 minutes to finish the gift-giving ceremony.
This is totally different from how my wife’s family handles things. They all sit down, slowly distribute gifts one at time, and then watch everyone open presents individually.
At the beginning of our marriage, my wife was overwhelmed by my family tradition and I was antsy during hers. (I mean, it seemed so slow—and everyone was watching me open gifts! Can you say…Awkward!)
Now, we recognize our families are just different. We also learned that it’s important to have both celebrations…plus ONE MORE.
My family celebration, her family celebration, and our family celebration with just our immediate family. That way, we could begin our own tradition as a family, and still enjoy the two extended family traditions that we grew up with.
Tip #3: Set boundaries.
This is an addition to the previous tip. Be flexible, yet establish boundaries. We have our family celebration on Christmas morning. Everyone else’s celebrations can happen before or after that. It doesn’t matter to us, but we have our very own special time. It’s important to us that we have our tradition, while still honoring everyone else’s, too.
Beyond that, boundaries come in lots of shapes and sizes. You have to decide what is and isn’t appropriate for your family.
Tip #4: Stay on the team.
I have this tendency to go into “kid mode” when we visit my family. Lisa called me out on it several years ago. She noticed that I wasn’t thinking like a husband and dad during these visits—I was thinking like a 12-year-old boy.
I was inserting myself into my old life, and forgetting my married life. The number-one thing about dealing with in-laws as a couple? You are in this together as a team—and that doesn’t include your in-laws.
For example, whatever comments your mom says about your spouse are her thoughts. She needs to either keep them to herself, or share them with both of you together so you can have a civil conversation about her feelings. Your priority is your marriage. Speaking of comments…
Tip #5: No snide comments. Ever.
Never bad mouth your spouse in front of extended family (or ever, for that matter). If you have a disagreement, go to a quiet place and talk about it. Ideally, you want to present a united front. Conversely, if your spouse is assaulted verbally by a family member, you must come to his or her support. Don’t stand for derogatory remarks. When you entered your marriage, your family also accepted your spouse into the family.
Celebrating together as an extended family is a privilege.
If there is verbal or other abuse, that privilege goes away. You don’t have to feel attacked in any way, shape or form. If you feel unsafe, decide on other arrangements for your holiday.
With Halloween behind us, think about some of these ideas when you tackle in-law visits with your spouse. Take the needed steps to have a great time with extended family, because there is no reason to be miserable.