This is the time of year when it’s important to discuss family holiday celebrations with your spouse. (Of course, this includes family Christmas celebrations, New Years, etc.) Actually, you probably should have done it before now. But if you haven’t already done this don’t delay it any longer. Do it A.S.A.P! It’s better to discuss these important events ahead of time rather than just sliding into them and being sorry later. Lets purpose to be mindful together.
The ones we especially want you to first discuss are the ones where you will have outside family members involved. Every holiday celebration should be a happy, loving one. But then there is that one family member (or more) that can create a significant disruption in the peace and fun that you could have enjoyed together. We’ve sure had them! And when they are present, you can count on the fact that somehow, some way, they will cause problems. How can you avoid this from happening to your family holiday celebrations?
Frankly, sometimes you can’t eliminate the drama completely. There may be a close family member like a parent, in law, sibling, or more that you need to be with at times. However, you can put plans together to curtail the upsets. Strategize together beforehand to minimize the amount of time you spend with this relative. And/or you can come up with a plan to nip the drama in the bud when that relative starts to cause problems. (You can walk away, or leave early, etc.)
Discuss Family Holiday Celebrations
But lets put first things first. First, you need to make the time and put in the effort to discuss family holiday celebrations with your spouse. You may think this isn’t necessary. But it’s just like the old saying goes, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” If you put your schedules together, and work though each of your expectations and your fears (of that dramatic relative), you have more of a chance of enjoying rather than gritting through your family celebrations. We’ve put plans together beforehand many times. It really does work out MUCH better when we do.
The goal is to enjoy each holiday event you’re involved in, with & without your extended families. Talk together about how you can do that. What can you do to make those family events more enjoyable? Also, discuss how you can offset any negativity that certain relatives can inflict upon your holidays spent together. There may still be some surprises. But you can at least scoot around most of them. And in your discussions, keep in mind that you are a marriage team. That means that it’s important that BOTH of you feel satisfied on the plans you put into place.
It may be necessary to divide your discussions on this area of your marriage into a couple of different time slots. First, discuss immediate holiday celebrations you’ll be celebrating within the next 30 days. Then talk about other celebrations that will be coming up within the year.
As You Discuss Family Holiday Celebrations, here’s a beginning tip:
• “Lay your cards on the table. If you’re concerned about a toxic situation arising with certain family members (e.g., you’re nervous your father-in-law will make critical remarks or your husband is sure your mother is going to interrupt everyone at dinner), it’s better to spell out in detail what exactly you’re worried about and how you want your partner to respond if those fears do come to fruition, advises Dr. Jeanette Raymond, psychologist and author.
“‘Set time to discuss each person’s expectations of the other in a specific set of situations,’ she says. ‘Discuss the feelings each is anticipating when the situation arises and whether those expectations are valid.'” (Maressa Brown, from the article, “5 Tips for Splitting the Holidays Without a Huge Fight”)
And when you are at a family gathering and a relative says or does something that is toxic, don’t hesitate to walk away. Jesus did on many occasions when people talked or acted in negative ways. And you can too. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Disengage and walk away. Pick another more private time to make a bigger deal of it with that person, if you know it would help.
Walk Away from Toxicity
Author Gary Thomas says this about that type of situation:
“I wouldn’t let a toxic uncle keep my kids from their grandparents and cousins, but here’s what I would do: I’d walk away into the next room. As soon as the toxicity comes out, don’t waste your time trying to correct him/her. A toxic person enjoys conflict, even over the holidays. A peaceful, happy, joyous occasion is boring to them.
“We can walk into the next room and find a healthy person to invest in, a nephew or niece to encourage, or seek general life advice or history from grandparents or great grandparents (who usually love to give it). If everyone leaves when the toxic winds begin to blow, the toxic person will have to learn how to keep from launching verbal grenades or else learn to eat by themselves.” (Gary Thomas, from the Fox News article, “Toxic family members can ruin the holidays. Here’s How to Save Yourself”)
I (Cindy) am going to share something with you that I believe could help you. But I have to be careful in all I reveal because of privacy issues with certain relatives. However, I believe this is an important issue and I need to be a bit transparent here for the greater good.
I had a step mom that used to even call herself “an evil step mom” and laugh about it. She would put me, and my adult siblings, in some very tough spots. We didn’t want to cause problems, but we also didn’t want to be put into those difficult situations.
She let it be known to us and everyone else that her family was wonderful, but our family was… Well, you get the idea. We did everything we could to love her and treat her in loving ways. But she sure made it difficult. When she would hurt one of us she would just say, “Well, that’s just the way I am. I’m not going to change at this point in my life!” OUCH! We knew that meant that we would have to find ways to survive her barbs and tantrums.
And that’s what we did. We survived. But we also learned to strategize. My brother and I made a deal not to be alone in the same room with her. That’s when she caused the most problems. We watched her and each other very carefully. We swooped in and changed a lot of subjects. Or we found reasons to go into other rooms, away from her drama. We were a great survival team.
Situations Change; So Strategies Change
But when my brother died, I had to come up with other strategies. Steve and I found different ways to shorten our visits, and/or dodge being alone in the same room with her. She rarely did any of this when my dad was around. She did little things, but not the “biggies” that hurt as much. And talking to my dad about this did not work well. So we had to be creative in finding our safe spaces. My dad is no longer with us, so thankfully we aren’t put into that type of situation with her any longer.
But we know all too well how toxic family gatherings can get (with her and with others). I could share a lot more. But what good would that do?
The point I’m trying to make here is to encourage you to work together to try to make it safer for each other when family situations go in dysfunctional directions. Shorten the time you spend together. Walk into another room, or agree to leave together early if you need to do that. Change the subject, make a joke, or find a way to cause a weird distraction. Be kind but find ways to even momentarily escape the drama that makes you angry and robs you of joy.
You can concentrate on the family members that bring you joy. And you can try to be a blessing whenever and wherever you can. Again, strategize ahead of time what to do “in case…” Try your best not to add to the drama. Holidays are not a time to set a loved one straight. Pick another time for that. Do what you can to bring peace and joy into the holiday setting.
More Tips as You Discuss Family Holiday Celebrations
And if you want a few more tips, here are two articles that could help you as you apply what you surmise will work for you:
And in your discussions here are a few other issues to consider as you make plans for your family holiday celebrations:
• “Are you and your [marriage] partner’s parents together? Do they live in different cities? Would someone be especially hurt if you didn’t make it? Is there someone in the family that you or your partner do not get along with very well? Maybe there’s someone who’s getting older that you want to spend quality time with while you can. Take some time to really go over each side of your family and determine what’s feasible and comfortable for both of you.” (Patrick Allan, from the article, “How to Decide Whose Family to Visit for the Holidays”)
• “Consider how your parents and other relatives may wish to have you involved. Perhaps a Christmas Eve service together is important to the wife’s parents, while Christmas dinner is central to the husband’s. Try to be open to the desires of family members—but not controlled by them.
“Agree on how you as a couple would like to establish your own holiday traditions. Work for balance and fairness. For example, you might decide to spend Christmas morning with your parents and Christmas evening with your spouse’s (if both live close by). The following year you might spend the whole day at home as a couple—or, if you have children, with them.” (Wilford Wooten, from the Focus on the Family article, Holidays and the In-Laws)
And Then, as You Discuss Family Holiday Celebrations:
• “Deciding where to spend the holidays can get downright complicated, to say the least. Of course, you both want to see your loved ones, and they want to see you, and neither family wants the other set of in-laws to monopolize all your time. So when it comes time to splitting holidays between families, what do you do? It comes down to compromise and communication.
“…In order to balance time between your families around the holidays, it’s important to be honest with your [marriage] partner about what you want while keeping their desires in mind too. Take the time to hear what your [marriage] partner envisions for seasonal celebrations, and be sure to respectfully voice your opinion too. From there, you can work to find a compromise on the best holiday system… for you and both families.” (From The Knot article, The Best Tips For Splitting Holidays Between Families, According to Real Couples)
Here’s a plan that one couple came up with that works for them, and it may just work for you too:
• “My advice is to see it as splitting your time not between two families, but three. You and your husband are a family, too, and the most important one. Look at a calendar and prioritize the holidays you want to spend with just the two of you, and then fill in time with both sides. Also, remember that you don’t have to celebrate on the specific day. You can have a second Thanksgiving a few days later and another Christmas one week before or even on New Year’s.” (Disneygeek77, from the article, “What’s Fair When Splitting Holidays with the Family’?”)
In all of this planning though, don’t hesitate to:
• “Be spontaneous. You might feel like you need to plan and organize your traditions, but you should also allow some flexibility. Saying yes to an impromptu concert or show might be a great way to find a new favorite tradition. Remember that all traditions have to start somewhere! If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious about the holiday traditions, take a break and just do something fun with your spouse.” (From the Wikihow article, “How to Create Holiday Traditions as a Newlywed Couple”)
And then we’ve saved this tip for last, which actually should have come first. We saved it because some people will reject it because it’s actually a bit of pre-marriage advice. However, if you didn’t do it before you married, you can still do it now.
Years ago we worked with a couple that were much older than us. They said, “How we wish we would have done this 30 years ago.” We all laughed together, but agreed that it’s better late than never to apply good principles to our marriages. By applying those marriage tips, they turned the later years of their marriage into great ones. We all can learn to improve our marriages. And we all can learn how to better discuss family holiday celebrations no matter how many years into the marriage we find ourselves.
Avoiding Dramatic Times
Carey and Dena Dyer talked in their book (“Love at First Fight”) about some very dramatic times they experienced together at their family holiday get-togethers. They learned the hard way to plan ahead. That prevented a lot of dysfunction and helped them to enjoy themselves. In this last tip they wrote:
“In order to save other couples from the same marital train wreck we suffered, we offer the following advice: First, somewhere between planning the wedding and picking out the curtains, every engaged couple should take an afternoon and talk about holidays and special occasions. Walk through the calendar year together. Make sure you clarify each other’s expectations.
“Second, be willing to compromise and change for the sake of unity. (This advice applies to every area of marriage. It’s not just for the holidays.) Jesus calls us to sacrifice our own desires and treat our spouse, as we would want to be treated. How can you honor your mate’s wishes without breaking the bank—or your neck? If you are the one with higher expectations, give grace to your marriage partner.
“Third, come up with traditions of your own. (Carey laughs at me because if we do something more than once, I call it a tradition. But I love creating new ones!) Brainstorm new ways to celebrate. Encompass your unique personalities, favorite foods and activities. And finally, have fun!”
Final Important Point
And that’s a great point we want to make here. Have fun! And when you can, infuse meaning, sentiment, humor, and total enjoyment into your time together. Discuss your family holiday celebrations with your spouse to the degree that your spouse will participate. And if your spouse brings or adds to the drama (and won’t help you), then talk to the Lord about this matter. Ask for wisdom on what you can do to bring peace.
The following are 3 different Bible versions of the same scripture found in Romans 12:18. We’re giving you all three because we believe it needs to be read, emphasized, prayerfully considered, and lived out as God would have you. Do this during this Christmas and holiday season. And live this way throughout the year. May God help you and help us all to make this our goal:
• “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (New International Version)
• “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” (New Living Translation)
• “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (English Standard Version)
And to that we say, AMEN!
May God bless you all the more, as you celebrate with Christ!
Cindy and Steve Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
To help you, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below to do so:
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