How To Keep Christmas From Ruining Your Marriage
by Willard F. Harley, Jr.
Christmas and New Year is a great time of the year… especially for marriage counselors and divorce attorneys. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against Christmas. In fact, my entire family looks forward to the holidays every year as a time that we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and we reflect God’s love for us by giving gifts to others.
But Christmas is a litmus test of a marriage’s health. Good marriages flourish during the holidays, but Christmas is the straw that breaks the back of many bad marriages. On January 2nd, divorce attorneys and marriage counselors alike are usually swamped with new business that will keep them busy until spring.
Why Is Christmas So Hard on Marriages?
Christmas is a time of year when many decisions must be made: What cards to mail and gifts to buy (and wrap) for each person on your Christmas list (especially your spouse); what to serve and who to invite to your home for Christmas; where to spend Christmas eve, and Christmas day; and, how to pay for it all. These are but a few of the decisions that put enormous pressure on most families this time of year.
The strength of a marriage is tested when decisions must be made.
The strength of a marriage is tested when decisions must be made. If a husband and wife have learned to discuss each issue with respect for each other’s perspectives, avoiding anger, disrespect or demands, Christmas decisions draw them together and increase their love for each other. That’s because their decisions take the feelings of both of them into account simultaneously. They create a Christmas that is enjoyable for the entire family.
But in bad marriages, conflicts are not resolved with mutual consideration. Instead, husbands and wives try to force decisions on each other without taking each other’s feelings into account. That leads to a Christmas filled with resentment and unhappiness.
Many years ago the movie, Jingle All the Way, was released. The father, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, tries to juggle all of his responsibilities on Christmas Eve, only to find that he, along with many others who can relate to his dilemma, is over-committed. Like so many others this Christmas, he just about loses his family because of it.
Arnold’s intentions were sincere. He wanted to help create a “memorable” Christmas. He didn’t want to disappoint his family. But he had one problem that ruined everything: He did not follow a rule I recommend for all marriages. It’s the Policy of Joint Agreement: Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse. He had not come to an enthusiastic agreement with his wife about how he would create this memorable experience. If she had seen what he was up to, she would have overruled it, and they would have created a new plan that would have strengthened their marriage, not ruined it. Since his plans were not mutually agreed upon, he paid the predictable price.
The stresses of Christmas demonstrated how bad this manÕs marriage was. It took a movieland fantasy to keep it together, a factor that doesn’t work in real marriages. But what really made his marriage bad wasn’t Christmas, it was the way he went about making decisions. He did not consider his wife’s feelings as part of his plan. She was emotionally isolated from him, and the Christmas season only underscored her resentment of the way he ignored her.
How to Avoid a Disastrous Christmas
Schwarzenegger’s character was saved from marital disaster by movie writers and special effects. But what should he have done to have avoided the problem in the first place? More to the point, how should you avoid a possible disaster this year?
The Policy of Joint Agreement is the ultimate answer to the problem. If you can create a new holiday experience that takes the feelings of both of you into account simultaneously, the burden of Christmas will be off your shoulders.
Your first new Christmas experience may require a great deal of negotiating, because so many of the decisions that go into your current nightmare must be completely scrapped. An entirely new way to celebrate Christmas may be required to satisfy both of you simultaneously. And there will be scores of separate decisions that make up this new Christmas experience. You should not go ahead with any Christmas activity until an enthusiastic agreement has been reached regarding that activity. That may mean that the first new Christmas experience won’t involve many activities.
With time and practice though, you’ll find that agreeing as you move forward pays huge dividends. The weight of a long to do list will be pared down to a manageable level and the friction of disagreement will be replaced by the joy of being on the same page. After all, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior. He wants that celebration to be a reflection of his love, not to be filled with discord and arguing.