How to Reduce Holiday Stress and Preserve Marital Bliss
By Cathy K. Hayes
The holidays arrive and with them come those endless lists of gifts to buy, decorations to put up and parties to attend. Meeting all the demands can place a lot of stress on a married couple’s relationship, but it doesn’t need to be that way.
“We all want our holidays to be magical and perfect, but the reality doesn’t always meet the expectations,” says Dr. Tim R. Thayne, a marriage and family therapist and author of Not by Chance: How Parents Boost Their Teen’s Success In and After Treatment.
“But that’s okay. One of the most important things couples need to remember this time of year is that you don’t have to live up to everyone else’s expectations and you don’t even have to keep doing everything you did in holidays past.”
Thayne offers a few tips to couples to help keep the stress level low and marital bliss on track through the hectic holiday season:
• Hold a holiday powwow. No one wants the frustrating experience of parental shock when one parent buys a child an unexpected gift that is way over budget. The resulting tension can put a damper on the sweetness of the experience for everyone. Thayne says you can avoid this by scheduling a holiday planning session to brainstorm gift ideas, work out budgets, and review letters to Santa or teenage wish lists. “Because you were raised in different families, you may have different ideas about what Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas morning, or New Year’s Eve festivities should look like,” Thayne says. “You can avoid conflict by setting expectations early for how many events you’ll attend, whether you’ll take the kids, how much you plan to spend on each other, or what house guests you’ll allow to stay over.”
• Write a decline script. If you feel relieved when the holidays are over, you probably are guilty of overbooking yourself. “Write and then practice a script for politely turning down invitations for yet another holiday party, ice skating with the baseball team, or a performing arts event,” Thayne says. “Realize and commit to memory that mantra that the quality of an event is far better than quantity.” Your decline script could be something like: “That sounds like a wonderful opportunity. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to attend. I’m sure it will come off beautifully.”
• Know that not all traditions need to live on. Family circumstances and needs change, Thayne says. Holiday traditions might have their place for a time, but as children grow, you may be able to swap out the childhood fun of everyone-sleeps-in-the-same-room-on-Christmas-Eve tradition for the benefits of the teenagers getting a good night’s rest instead. Anyone can add shiny, fun things into their life. It takes determination to evaluate and edit. “So, make the traditions you do decide to continue even better,” Thayne says. “How? Find a way to make them more relationship-focused.”
“A scaled-down holiday may be just what a couple needs to keep the season relaxed and joyful,” Thayne says. “It may just take a little planning, compromising, as well as a willingness to let go of a few traditions, to make it happen.”
Dr. Tim R. Thayne is the founder and CEO of Homeward Bound, a leading program in early intervention and in-home transition from treatment services from for families of troubled teens. He has a master’s degree from Brigham Young University and a doctoral degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Virginia Tech.