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How to Survive (and thrive) in your Marriage This Holiday Season

Dec 10, 2021

Family dynamics and family values shape us. Family experiences influence our concepts of how marriage should be structured and how children should be raised. They impact how we view work, recreation, education, money, politics, religion...and HOLIDAYS. No matter how long we have been married, the holidays always present plenty of opportunities for baggage, unmet expectations, hurt feelings, and a whole bunch of overwhelm.

Sometimes family issues catch us off guard and show up differently as times change, parents age, and kids grow.  The good news...You get to choose how you move forward in your relationship and in your family.

Here are our 4 tips for surviving and thriving in your marriage this holiday season...

FIRST FAMILY FOCUS

Our Family + My Family + Your Family = A LOT of Family

We will be the first to say that family is important, but family is a broad term.  In a marriage, we have a few different families and sorting and engaging those family units in the proper priority is one of the single most important keys to success during the holidays.  This starts with the 2 people who stood in front of each other at the alter to say, "I do."  We call this the FIRST FAMILY.

Many couples struggle with the transition from "my family" and "your family" to "our family."  The reality is that once you get married, you are creating a new family, which becomes your "first family."  Your FIRST FAMILY is the 2 people under your roof and any other tiny humans you decide to bring into that mix.  Your loyalty, your investment, and your energy is supposed to be dedicated to your first family above all else.  Even for couples who have been married for 10 or 20 years have to be reminded to start with "first family."  Every year, couples should discuss first family priorities prior to engaging in any of the extra family events.

A few discussion questions to ponder...

What traditions do you have or want to have with your first family?

Are there any traditions that you need to create or stop this year?

 

PROACTIVELY MANAGE MOM & DAD

You know the saying about the word "assume," right? We know it sounds weird, but being proactive and intentionally managing moms and dads is a crucial survival technique.  Moms and dads raise their kids with a mental picture of what life will be like as they age.  Humans can't help themselves from painting a picture of a perfect gathering around a tree full of presents or a table full of food, drinks, and laughter. If you don't set expectations and talk about them, assumptions will be made.  

Anything you do outside of the mental model in a parent's head has the potential to disappoint.  So we suggest starting early, revisiting plans every year, and helping bring parents and siblings along in a way that better matches reality.  There is almost no way to not disappoint someone, but it's better to start early and allow people to plan than to surprise someone with disappointing news a day or two before.

Be on the lookout for any life changes in the lives of others that could shake up the pre-existing traditions and expectations.  Siblings getting married, new babies, geographic location changes, etc all create significant gaps in expectations vs reality and they can catch us off guard.

A few discussion questions to ponder...

 What are all other sides of the family hoping for?

Have I communicated our plans Are there any traditions that you need to create or stop this year?

 

SHARE THE LOAD

Newflash...spouses cannot read minds.

Another place to manage expectations is with your significant other.  Some key areas couples often struggle to talk about is our expectations surrounding how much time is spent shopping, wrapping, cooking, and cleaning, as well as, setting some parameters on how much we plan to spend.  Holidays are emotional in every direction, so planning early can help stick to a budget, share the workload of running all over town, and limit the amount of last minute late nights wrapping, cooking, and cleaning while also trying to meet year end goals at work. 

Another conversation that comes up between couples is whether or not to give each other gifts.  If you have kids, all of your focus and attention typically goes into spoiling them.  In addition to savings goals, house projects, and everyday expenses; it can be hard to know whether or not to splurge on each other. Reality check: we want to be thought of and we want to feel special.  No matter how many times or how often your spouse says they don't need or want anything gifts, they actually do.  It doesn't have to be much and we recommend discussing a price range so that a great gift isn't at the expense of paying bills or putting groceries on a credit card.  Another great option is to give the gift of experience: plan a date night, a guys night out, or a spa day for your spouse.  While we don't recommend showing up with a brand new BMW with a 7 ft bow on top, you could also consider a shared gift...put your money toward that house project you've wanted to finish, a vacation, or make room for your new Peloton and get mad fit.

A few discussion questions to ponder...

 Have we discussed a budget range or limit for gifts this year?

Have I communicated what I hope for our spousal gift exchange this year?

 

YOU CAN'T DO IT ALL

We know it's not what you want to hear, but you cannot do it all.

One of my (Mark's) favorite author's Jon Acuff says that in order to be successful we have to "choose what to bomb."  It's human nature to think we can do more than all of it.  If we have 10 things we want to do, we irrationally think we can be good at 12 out of 10 things.  We can't.

This year, write down everything you have to do and hope to do and then cut it in half.  We really mean it when we say write it down.  Get it out of your head and share the list with each other.  We get so comfortable with our own thoughts that sometimes we think we have clearly communicated the thoughts in our head.  Getting things out of our head invites our spouse into our space, and it helps sort the chaos.  If you're anything like me (Mark), you are probably thinking you don't need to do this step and that you can manage well inside your head.  You can't. 

Keep your expectations fair with regard to time commitments like catching up with friends and family, how many cookies you're going to bake, how many personal notes you're going to write inside of cards, and how many Starbucks gift cards you're going to give to other people.  You may mean well; but creating margin and fair expectations is more heroic these days than being frenzied and frustrated.  You're going to fail at something, this year fail at trying to do it all.  Being relaxed, present, and accomplishing half of what you think you can is way better for your relationship and family.  This year choose to be at your best personally and as a couple for 50% of the things rather than at your worst for all of it.

A few discussion questions to ponder...

 What are the things that we absolutely must do this holiday season?

What are some things that I can live without or fail at this year?

 

 

REMINDER: There isn't necessarily a right answer to any of these things, other than being on the same page and continuing to navigate them together. Having a different opinion or differing expectations doesn't mean that someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong.  Be intentional, be open and honest, and be unified.  If ever things shift or change, work through it together. Your relationship can weather the storms of disagreements as long as the primary decisions are being made as the family that is the 2 of you.

We wish you the best this holiday season.  We desire more "yay" stories this year surrounding intact family units, navigating tough things, and more plans for this next year to be even better than the last.  Stay tuned for a 4 part series coming soon about planning for the new year together.

 

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