Married Christmas: Coping with Spousal Stress This Holiday Season

Remember when you first got married? You had this vision of the perfect Christmas. Beautiful holiday table, smiling faces… two hearts aglow, two families joining in harmony. Turns out married life isn’t always like that, is it?

If your own family brought you troubles in the past, now you’ve got two of them to contend with. How to keep the peace, and your sanity intact? Here are some tips for coping, so you can avoid spousal spats and family feuds this Christmas season.

“Married Christmas” Stress Factor 1: Arguments Over Gifts

One of the most common arguments of married people centres around gifts. Dilemmas like how much to spend, what to buy for the kids, whether or not to exchange with in-laws, and other awkward scenarios are a common fact of Married Christmas.

There’s also the awkward issue of not appreciating the gift that your partner picked out for you. Or how about making gift returns without crushing egos, and other gift-related problems that present themselves at this time of year.

How to Keep It Merry:

Conversations with extended family about gifts should happen well in advance of Christmas shopping season. If they don’t, then we should just forget about having our wishes met, and just be happy that the ancient gift-giving tradition lives on in modern life.

One tactful policy that may avoid ruffling feathers at holiday time, is to thank everyone heartily for the gifts, then bring up the topic of returns at a later date. Quiet re-gifting, too, can be a good way to put those unwanted items to use. (Just be sure you’re not re-gifting to the person who gave you the present in the first place!) Also, many stores accept holiday returns without a physical receipt. So you don’t even have to address the topic of an unwanted gift with your husband, wife or his or her family if you don’t want to.

If clashes in family styles bring awkward gift-giving moments, you and your spouse can develop a “you handle your family, I’ll handle mine,” gift purchasing and presenting policy.

What about gifts between partners, and the battles this can bring on? The keys to avoiding resentment around the topic of holiday gifts are: 1. lower your expectations, and 2. just be grateful, no matter what.

One of the biggest mistakes we make is expecting our partner to magically know what we’d like for Christmas. So we don’t tell them, and then we are visibly disappointed at whatever present they choose for us. Worse still, if we admit the truth – that we don’t really like, can’t use, or already have the gift they got for us, we leave them feeling unappreciated. Resentment builds.

It helps to develop a thick skin around present exchange time. On the receiving end, express gratitude for anything you may be given, even if in your mind, it’s a dud. And as a giver also expect that some gifts, however thoughtfully chosen for your partner, may have to be returned to the store. Taking a practical, financially prudent attitude toward the giving or returning of gifts may be the right move for you and your hubby or wife. Anything that goes back to the store is a win for the family bank account.

“Married Christmas” Stress Factor 2: Too Much to Do, Not Enough Time

One common source of marital stress around the holidays is that your marriage goes neglected due to pressing obligations, timelines and to-do lists. You may save your very last, most weary moments for some quality time with your partner, only to find that you’re too tired to talk. Or, maybe one of you is in a snuggly, sharing, or sentimental mood, but the other is snoring away on the sofa.

How to Keep It Merry:

There are a few ways to increase good feelings toward our married partners during this busy, pressure-filled season. One is to always assume that your husband or wife has the best intentions.

If they show up late for dinner, hold your temper and curb your urge to scold. There might just be a secret surprise in store that had them stuck in traffic, or online at a special store, which resulted in the lateness. If they spent money to get her hair done, don’t think of them as frivolous. Maybe they want to make a positive impression on your boss and coworkers at the upcoming office party.

Here’s a fun way to keep holiday spousal stress at bay: turn togetherness time into an opportunity to care for each other. Support each other during times of need.

If you know your partner is working the holiday season late shift, why not make their night with a warmed-up plate of dinner and a glass of wine when they come through the door? If one or both of you suffer aches and pains, a married massage will take the edge off and relax you to the point that all those holiday stressors won’t seem so bad anymore.

These are the best holiday gifts that don’t come with a price tag, and they really speak volumes about your love for each other.

“Married Christmas” Stress Factor 3: Whose Family Will We Celebrate With This Year?

A timeless, common Christmas conundrum for married couples is “will we celebrate with your family or mine this year?” In fact, you pretty much have no choice but to see the humour in this argument that surely has a permanent place in every married couple’s list of Totally Predictable to the Point of Utter Boredom, Yet Completely Unavoidable Holiday Disagreements.

How to Keep It Merry:

The approach to handling holiday plans with both sides of the family, however awkwardly this plays out, is to be as fair, tactful, and diplomatic as possible. Consider things like whose family did we see on Christmas Day last year? Also consider special circumstances, like a new baby in the family, that might make hosting or travelling a bit more challenging.

If your mother-in-law complains that she doesn’t get to see her son on Christmas Day because you always celebrate with your side of the family, then make arrangements to switch it up, and be with your folks on Boxing Day this year instead. If it’s your sister-in-law’s turn to host but she’s eight months’ pregnant, show empathy and ask if she’d prefer you have the party at your house.

Another good option when planning family holiday get-togethers is to be realistic and keep an open mind to alternative solutions. If your partner has a large family but yours is small, you can solve the problem of not being available to both sides at once by planning an alternate Christmas with your people, on an alternate date.

“Married Christmas” Stress Factor 4: Having Trouble Accepting Your Spouse’s Family Traditions, and Vice Versa

Another unexpected annoyance that happens at holiday time is that your own cherished family traditions may get downplayed, passed over or even dropped for new ones created by your family-by-marriage.

Perhaps your Polish husband is too enamoured with the thought of endless kielbasa and kraut to appreciate the Italian 7 fishes Christmas Eve tradition that you look forward to all year with great anticipation. Maybe you always go to Christmas Eve midnight mass, but your husband just can’t stay awake that long. You may feel disappointed at holiday time, as you struggle to find a balance between your partner’s priorities and your own.

How to Keep It Merry:

If you have something special that you like to cook, a particular game that you like to play on Christmas, or some other tradition that came from your family, it may take a few years of being married before your in-laws embrace this practice as well. Have patience, and gently persist.

Try to show enthusiasm for and interest in their own family traditions, as well as sharing with them the special holiday rituals that you hold dear. Some of your family’s holiday contributions may eventually take, while others, you may just have to keep among your own people.

Remember, too, that you and your husband can embrace “the best of the best” holiday traditions from both sides, and combine or modify them into something that works for you both. You might even come up with some new ideas to make a part of your yearly memory-making at holiday time.

“Married Christmas” Stress Factor 5: Holiday Mishaps and Miscommunication

Holiday parties with family bring out the best and worst in all of us. At this celebratory time of year, problematic relatives with whom we normally don’t have to deal tend to show up and wreak mild havoc. With alcohol flowing, remarks may be passed. When it’s your husband or wife’s family, it’s easy to find fault or become overly critical. After all, you’ve dealt with your own family for a lifetime. Now these other people have come along and forced you to develop new coping skills!

How to Keep It Merry:

One way marrieds can keep it merry when it comes time for holiday family parties is to swallow pride and leave the poor attitude at the door. The holiday season is a time to cherish loved ones, flaws and all. It’s also a time to open our minds to people who may do things differently than we do and to avoid dwelling on the things people may say that hurt our feelings, even if they weren’t meant to.

Often, a carelessly placed remark or gesture can get under our skin at stressful holiday time. If this happens, you can decide to raise a glass to family and all their funny quirks, and just let it go. Or, if whatever was said really has irked you, you can always let off some steam by venting privately to a good friend who won’t end up in the middle of the family conflict and will probably help you see the humour in it all.

If you find it difficult to get along with your in-laws at holiday time, whatever you do, avoid complaining about them to your spouse. Remember that this is their family, and just as you wouldn’t take kindly to them expressing negative things about your mum, dad, or siblings, neither would they. You can make an active choice whether to emphasize festivities or fights this holiday season. Showing respect and appreciation for your spouse’s family, especially at Christmas time, will set the tone for future happy holidays to come.

Finally, know that as your marriage becomes more seasoned, the things that may have bothered you initially about your partner or your in-laws may eventually resolve. And as the years go by, you might even grow to cherish the times you spend with them at Christmas.

Related: Reasons Why Dating Your Spouse Could Save Your Marriage

12 Tips To Avoid All Out War At The Christmas Table


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