Christmas traditions run deep in our families. We carry childhood memories of family fun and closeness we want to hold onto forever. Like many couples, when Rob and I married we realized our hopes and expectations for the season were miles apart. We had to work for several years to break through our mismatch of what “happy holidays” meant to each of us. Pressing in to communicate and resolve conflict allowed Christmas to become the season of joy it’s meant to be for our family.
Today we’re sharing four common struggles and solutions to help couples keep conflict out of Christmas.
1. Parties and Plans
It’s rare to find a couple who’s an equal match of introvert/extrovert or ‘doer’ vs. ‘be-er.’ One partner may want to pack December with caroling, concerts, community tree-lightings and parades, and socializing. The other may be a homebody, happy to cozy up by the fireplace with cocoa and Christmas movies. When one spouse feels bored while the other feels like they’re running ragged, conflict is sure to follow.
Together, make a list of all the possible holiday events you could put on the calendar. Take some time to sift out the ‘musts’ from the ‘maybes’. (For us, our musts this year are the church Christmas concert, the symphony’s holiday pops, and the festival of trees at the botanical gardens.) Consider which activities could make do with one instead of both of you. Pick one or two nights in the month just for the two of you to reconnect and get in the Christmas spirit as a couple. Set yourselves up for a season of memory-making, worship, and relaxing togetherness as a family.
2. Deck the Halls
Rob is the biggest fan of Christmas I’ve ever met. His music playlist fills the house with Andy Williams and Bing Crosby from the end of October until the end of January. I should ask for earplugs in my stocking, because I’ve reached my fill by December 26. But thanks to him, the doorways and walkway are strung with lights, the fresh-cut tree is up for weeks, and we keep the theaters in business catching every Christmas flick they’ve got.
When I was growing up, we ordered pizza for Christmas Eve. Rob’s family, on the other hand, loaded their table with a major spread of appetizers, desserts, and punch. Rob loves all the trimmings and goodies the season can offer, while I’m content with a less-is-more approach.
To avoid conflict, we choose joy for each other. Filling our home with music, treats, and every kind of decoration makes Rob happy. His happiness makes me happy because I love him. He’s sensitive to me, too, if I need a little quiet. He’ll swap out the trumpeting carols for soft instrumentals for my ears. He’s a big help in hanging (and filling!) my cherished keepsake stockings from the mantel. He cheerfully drags the totes of ornaments and garland in and out of storage without expecting me to do it all. All he asks is for a little oohing and aahing over his light display.
To find peace at Christmas, give each other respect and space to decorate, bake, and fa-la-la in whichever way gives you the most joy.
3. Packages and Bows
Rob grew up in a large family of givers. Presents were stacked high and deep around their Christmas tree—at his house, it was definitely “the more the merrier” when it came to gifts. In my small family, we exchanged thoughtful gifts but kept it a bit more simple. This created some serious tension once we grew our own family. I was sure the piles of toys and treats would spoil our kids beyond reason. And, I felt awkward being unable to reciprocate grandparents’ lavish generosity on our single-income budget. Rob wanted to go all out while I tried to rein it in.
In this area I needed to put myself in others’ shoes. I had to recognize the love language of giving on full display before me. My kids weren’t spoiled—they were having a great time and blessing their relatives through their smiles and delight. I also learned to see the unconditional love in the giving. Any pressure to give in equal measure was self-imposed. Once I could relax and just take it all in, we had a much better time.
Rob and I now enjoy finding just the right presents for our kids and families each year. We’ve landed on the same page with how much feels right for our family. His perspective has stretched me to give more, and more creatively, than I would on my own. And, my simple expectations have kept us from shopping for shopping’s sake. We avoid conflict by valuing each other’s motives and point of view.
Again, take time to talk and agree on a budget. Brainstorm as a team about gifts your loved ones will truly value and enjoy. Make a list and check it twice, together.
4. Where and When
We’re blessed with plenty of extended family, and we all love each other like crazy. We can feel pulled in all directions, never able to open gifts or gather around the table with everyone at the same time. For plenty of couples, guilt and pressure to satisfy family expectations steals the joy from the season. Husbands and wives can take that stress out on each other. When we put our energies into pleasing relatives instead of pulling together as a couple, our relationship suffers.
Early on, we realized we needed to create a consistent plan that worked for us as a family (even more critical once we had kids). As a young couple, we took Dennis Rainey’s advice on the radio to heart, to create traditions for our family at home. Since then we’ve chosen to opt out of travel until after Christmas day. Coming together around our own tree and worshiping at our home church have become important traditions for us and our children. Our doors are open to any who would like to join us at home, creating sweet memories of stockings and brunch with loved ones on Christmas day.
Our newly-married son and lovely daughter-in-law are finding balance by choosing to alternate each year. This year, they’ll celebrate with Cassie’s family and next year we’ll enjoy time together at our house. Other couples we know choose to spend Christmas Eve with one side of the family and Christmas day with the other. Communicate your plans clearly with extended family so they feel “in the loop” and valued. Regardless of where and when you celebrate, invest in the hearts and needs of your spouse and children above all.
At Christmas, everybody is longing for peace on earth and goodwill toward men. We can find peace in our homes and goodwill toward each other in our marriages, too. This year, let’s commit to communicating our thoughts and feelings with love. Let’s choose to honor one another’s personal history and create plans and traditions as a team. We can leave conflict behind, setting us free to celebrate the season and worship Christ with joy.
We pray for every blessing for you and your family in this Christmas season.
I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy
of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another in love,
eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit
in the bond of peace.