Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32
I don’t manage stress well. In my mind, I have supernatural powers to overcome any mountain with grace and elegance, so I might have committed to a big holiday project at work, two volunteer projects at my son’s school, all the while planning to have the “perfect, magical Christmas” for my family. I start every December with a ton of energy and great ideas. I make lists, buy gifts, plan activities, and buy tickets to concerts and festivals all over the Metroplex. In my super-power mind, I am doing great. But somewhere about December 12 to 15, the wheels start to fall off the bus, and a full-on Christmas meltdown is near. Unfortunately, when exhaustion sets in and the “perfect Christmas” starts to fall apart, it is my husband who bears the brunt of my stress.
One would think that after all these years of marriage, he would see it coming. It might start with a snippy comment at dinner, an exasperated request to pick up some sugar, or a frustrating review of the over-scheduled Saturday morning. In his defense, he starts every holiday season with a plea to pare it down. Why I cannot heed that advice is a question for the ages. But when I launch into my Christmas meltdown, he takes the blows; he is the one who isn’t doing enough, he is the one who is spending too much money, and, my worst, he is the one who hears, “You don’t like Christmas!!!!!!” It’s not pretty, and in truth, I am not proud of my behavior.
A couple years ago, we met an amazing couple who were a few years ahead of us on the life curve. They have become great mentors for us. Recently over coffee, this very special woman reminded me that:
The level of my dissatisfaction is directly proportional to the level of my expectations.
For years, I have been so busy trying to make the “perfect Christmas” for my family that I was killing the season for the one person I most wanted to share it with: my husband. My friend shared some sage advice to turn the season around. These are things I wish we would have started practicing 20 years earlier.
- Set realistic expectations TOGETHER of what the holiday season will look like in your family this year. These expectations should include a gift list you both agree on, a budget for gifts, and reasonable plans for family activities and special events. Also, discuss your emotional expectations. There is probably not a couple in the world who can live up to the Hallmark Channel. So spend some time talking about what is important emotionally to both of you.
- Get physical. Two of the best ways to reduce stress are to exercise and have sex. It is during times of high stress that we forget the things that are basic to our relationship. Healthy, regular sex is a basic building block to sustaining a healthy marriage. When the hurry of the season starts to take over, make sure you are taking that time alone together. An hour working out at the gym wouldn’t hurt, either.
- Have a date night. We started December dating in the early days of our marriage. It is so much fun to go to new restaurants, see all the lights and decorations, enjoy a walk around town, or drive to see neighborhood lights, just the two of us. For us, it is like we are dating all over again. I dress up, he plans the restaurant and date, he picks me up. It’s not always fancy; sometimes, it is just a new burger place. Sometimes, if the weather is still warm, it is a picnic by the lake. The point is that we are dating, spending time together, and reconnecting.
- Make shopping a family affair. If you have a larger family, make a day of going to the mall. You can split the list, hand out cash that matches your budget, have kids go with one parent or the other, and start shopping. It is most fun when the kids are shopping for each other. The thrill of giving starts to exceed the anticipation of receiving.
- Give up something. One of the best exercises we have ever done is to talk about what we hate about the holidays. I love carriage rides and Christmas lights; my husband hates the hassle of driving downtown, the cold, and the expense for lights he has seen or could see from the comfort of his own car. Though that crushes my romantic view of the “perfect Christmas,” I realize that is not a make it or break it item for me, and I can give that tradition up. I am sure you will find some things you are willing to give up, and a few that are so important emotionally you are not ready or willing to compromise on.
As I look back over the years of Christmas past, the things that stand out the most are not the fancy parties, the extravagant gifts, or the six well decorated Christmas trees all over the house. And I certainly don’t want to be remembered for my infamous Christmas meltdowns. More than anything, I want my son to see the love of Christ modeled in his parents’ relationship and how we care for one another as we are called to do in Ephesians 4:32.
Christine Clark is the Ministry Coordinator for the Family and Children’s Ministry at Stonebriar Community Church. She has a passion for supporting parents and helping them gain confidence and tools to be spiritual leaders in their homes. She is blessed to be the mom of a middle school son and the wife of her college sweetheart for more than 20 years. She is also an avid sports fan who loves all things football, especially in the fall in Texas.