If you’ve been married for even a single Christmas season, then you’ve already learned this: Spouses can envision very different things for holidays, without even realizing it. One of you wants to relax and keep it simple and never ever get out of their pajamas; the other wants to be Clark Griswold, and invite Cousin Eddie and every other relative to spend weeks partying at your house!
On our first few Christmases together, my husband Kevin and I ran into unexpected conflict over stupid things: should we invite 50 friends over for Ugly Sweater parties every other night, or go hibernate alone in a mountain cabin with no Internet or phone service or Ugly Sweaters; should we drive thousands of miles cross-country to visit every third cousin twice removed, or stay home snuggling by the fire; should we invite friends over for Christmas dinner, or have a quiet meal with just our family…and the list went on. Plus, we both had our own list of like 36 Things We Absolutely Had to Do in December or Else Our Whole Holiday Season Would Be Ruined.
We quickly learned that we had to talk through all the details of our expectations and calendar if we wanted to have a merry married Christmas. At first I, being rather a free spirit when it comes to holidays, ran away screaming when Kevin came at me waving a calendar and throwing out terrifying words like “schedule” and “plan ahead,” but I quickly realized how wise he was. And now that we have four kids and live far away from both extended families, there’s no choice. We have to plan.
Kevin and I have learned that several weeks before Christmas (if you haven’t noticed, that’s now!), we need to have a little meeting together. We put the kids to bed, light a fire, and sit down in front of the tree (the calming presence of the tree helps me not hyperventilate). We grab our family calendar, pour glasses of wine (again with the hyperventilation prevention), and map out everything we both want to do over the holidays. First we talk about expectations—how we want our holiday to feel, what we are both hoping for.
Then out comes the Evil Calendar. This is where we figure out how our expectations translate into life in the real world, with the limits of 24-hour days and the need to eat and sleep and bathe children. This is where expectations meet reality. This is where we figure out how to make our expectations actually happen. We are VERY specific—we pencil in everything we want to do over the holidays:
- all the gajillion fun family outings we want to pack in
- date nights
- who we are going to invite over, and when
- decorating and gift-wrapping
- shopping excursions
- community service
- all 537 holiday and birthday and New Year’s parties we need to attend
- we even reserve certain nights for relaxing at home, watching favorite movies and wrapping presents
These plans are not set in stone or signed with a blood pact or anything—we can always change them later. But they give us a roadmap to start from—and they make sure we’re working from the same map, trying to get to the same destination.
And you know what’s the best part about doing this? It doesn’t just unite us and prevent conflict and confusion, it also helps me to feel less overwhelmed. For example, your spouse might help you realize: Hey, I’m being unrealistic in my Big Holiday Pinterest Plans. If I’m going to decorate my yard with snowmen made from snow flown in directly from the North Pole, and carve an ice sculpture for a Christmas dinner centerpiece, then I’m either going to need my spouse to kick in and help me, or consider scaling back my decorating plans a little. This is especially helpful for me as a woman who wants to do ALL OF THE THINGS, but forgets that she does not have a body double, personal shopper, or house elf to help her. Kevin, wonderful husband that he is, usually offers to take a few Christmasy jobs off my plate when he sees how much I *think* I can accomplish in December—some years he has offered to do the wrapping for me; other years he’s suggested we get babysitters so we can go finish shopping together; other years he tells me to schedule in exercise and naps. (Really.)
But seriously. When you map out when and how you’re going to accomplish all the different fun things the holiday entails, and when you come up with a plan for working together with your spouse to make them all possible, I promise: you’ll feel happy and free. Holly-jolly, even. All your Scroogey “Bah-Humbug-I’m-too-overwhelmed-to-enjoy-Christmas” feelings will vanish. This puts you and your spouse on the same holiday team, working toward a merry married Christmas!
This post originally appeared on the author's website, LizzyLife.com.