Worried about Christmas? So are many people. Some are worried about how much money this is going to cost. Others wonder how loud and obnoxious their relatives can be. Some fear their marriage might reach the breaking point over the next few stressful weeks. I know you say that you aren’t worried about how well dressed your kids are, but I too have kids and so I know that no matter what we believe and what we say, Christmas is a pressure cooker. I thought I would offer up a few conversation starters that will help relieve some of the stress if you have them before the season is in full swing. I claim no special knowledge of how these conversations will go for you and your partner, but I know that these have helped my wife and I and that many of the fights I overhear and the struggles people talk to me about would be avoided if only they took the time to sit down and talk together. It can feel silly and forced but it will be less difficult than the potential fights they are meant to avoid.
Conversation #1 Money issues.
This might not be the best time for this conversation, optimally you would already have had this one and planned ahead. Likely as not you are among the masses of us who haven’t done that. Before you get lost along the way make a plan for the month. How much are you going to spend on each other? On hosting? On presents? On driving places? On decorations? On charity? On gifts for those who host you? Gifts for co-workers? On new clothes or accessories to wear to all those parties? I think you get the point there are a lot of small costs and a few big ones around Christmas. Don’t let them creep up on you; make a plan. Talking about it ahead of time can remove a lot of the stress of actually spending it. Remember in this conversation that you might not have the same ideas, you might have to wait until next year to do some of the things you want to do financially, and remember it will be helpful to make a compromise neither of you feel totally happy with because the alternative is to both wind up angry, unhappy, and to top it off, broke.
Conversation #2 how many gatherings
One of the hard things about marriage is that opposites often attract and that can mean and introvert is married to an extrovert. It can also mean that someone who prefers to work at home has married someone who works out of the house or travels a lot for work. Needless to say these couples are going to argue over how much time to spend alone and how much to spend with friends, family, and co-workers. In this conversation you need to explain to each other how many events you think you can handle and why. You also may need to explain why particular events are very important to you (and thus can “cost” you and your partner something but be worthwhile anyway).
Conversation #3 Traditions
Everyone grew up in some sort of family, no matter how far from the 1950s mom and pop nuclear family it was. Every childhood involved traditions, some worth keeping and others less so. These traditions will impact your current hopes and expectations even if you don’t realize it. Talking about these can be reminders of beautiful memories and help you to know each other a little better. You may also know what sort of traditions you hope to have as a family. Some traditions will just creep up in an organic way that happened with a lot of my family’s traditions. Remember: It’s never too late to start a new tradition.
Conversation #4 Trouble spots
Are there aspects of your character that you need to pay particular attention to? Do you gossip or eat too much? Do you need to take special care about how much you drink over the holidays or how much television you binge on? It can be helpful to talk to your partner about things you are worried about falling into over the holidays. This will enable you to help each other overcome those issues and also help you to be sensitive to the particular struggles your partner is going through.
Conversation #5 Family issues
Everyone has been in a room when someone said something terribly powerful without knowing it. Help each other to know of any potential hot spots where relatives may need special care or “handling.” You should also be sure to know if there are any people you are likely to encounter over the holidays that create a particular anxiety or stress for your partner. This can help you be there for them when they need you most.
Conversation #6 (Because you need a bonus) expectations
Talk to each other about your expectations of each other. What do you need from each other. Listen carefully to what your partner says and try not to be intimidated by the magnitude of what may be required. Know how clean you expect the house to be and how organized the kids need to be (from your perspective). Clear expectations can go a long way to getting along. Try to list three selfless acts you will try to accomplish for your partner over the holidays. Do them and you might find your marriage and holiday season vitalized.
There are other conversation you might want to have some are short like Who is going to drive home from this event? And others are longer What are we hoping to accomplish in the next year? Is this the year to put mom in a home? Etc.
The heart of many relationships is communication. So try to communicate. If you are scared pray that God would give you courage. If you fear your partner is a closed door pray that God would open them to the conversations. The bottom line is not to make excuses to get yourself out of having these conversations, they are too important for that.