It might be the most wonderful time of the year, but the holidays can be a minefield for marriages. Miserable cold weather, holiday commitments, a tighter budget, family drama, and all that holiday stress can build a rift between you and your spouse.
But that's the thing: Christmas isn't meant to drive people apart - it's meant to bring them together. And if your spouse is the most important relationship you have, that togetherness should only be magnified during the holiday season.
We've pulled together a few marriage tips for this season, and we hope they will help! It's possible to grow closer despite all the added stress - don't give up. Here are our favorite marriage tips for couples who want to grow closer during the holidays:
1. Manage Your Expectations Surrounding the Holidays
Every person has expectations for how life (and their spouse) should be. These expectations come from how you were raised or how you've done things in the past. But the truth is, having uncommunicated expectations for your spouse (even if they are realistic) is doomed from the start.
If your spouse isn't aware of your expectations, they're going to let you down sometime or another. And unfortunately, this happens far more often during the holidays. The holiday season is packed with traditions and nostalgia, and if you have a romantic expectation for how Christmas is going to look this year, you might be disappointed (which can lead to hurt and arguments).
Communicate to your spouse what you hope to get out of this holiday season. Are you hoping for a chill, relaxed Christmas? Do you want to have all the family over? Are you hoping to hit all the Christmas parties? Share your expectations with your spouse, and listen to theirs. Then develop a unified hope for the Christmas season so you can move towards that goal as a team.
To put it simply, managing expectations really boils down to communication and humility. Understand your Christmas might not look like it always has before - that's okay! The important thing is enjoying the holidays together, not distant because you didn't fulfill each other's Christmas wishes.
2. Clearly Communicate Responsibilities and Follow Through
The holiday season is packed with extra responsibilities, and if you don't communicate who does what with your spouse, you're gearing up for a stressful Christmas.
If one spouse does most of the holiday chores, it can build resentment between you. One spouse will feel overworked and underappreciated, while the other is clueless and insensitive to the tension.
The solution is simple: before any of these responsibilities come up, talk about them! Make a list of all the holiday chores you'll need to accomplish (for instance: holiday cooking and baking, Christmas shopping, gift wrapping, decorating, and budgeting). Discuss which responsibilities have fallen on whom in the past and if you'd like to change that this year.
Then assign holiday responsibilities. Expectations will be clear and the burden won't be reserved for one person. You'll be able to tackle all the not-so-fun things that come with Christmas together, as a team. Just be sure to follow through!
3. Verbalize Your Appreciation
On the flip side, if your spouse helps a lot with holiday chores, it is SO important to thank them often. Forgetting to show your appreciation is easy to do, but it can leave your spouse feeling like all their hard work is meaningless.
Make sure your spouse knows how much you appreciate them! Even if they're doing their normal responsibilities like work, cooking, or cleaning, saying a simple thank you can make them feel so encouraged.
A great way to make a habit of thanking your spouse is to say what you're thankful for every day. At the dinner table, before bed, or on your evening walk, share the things you're thankful for that day. Make sure to include everything you noticed your spouse doing that day and add it to your thankfulness list! Then express out loud how thankful you are for what they do.
Thankfulness for your spouse is a hugely important habit, especially during the holidays. You won't take them for granted, and they'll feel so appreciated (win-win!).
4. Schedule Intentional Intimate Time
Yep, we're going there! Intimacy is key to a healthy marriage, and it's easy to let it sit on the backburner when life gets busy. But prioritizing intimate time is even more important during the holidays, and it's so worth the extra effort.
It might not seem super sexy at the start, but scheduling intimate time every few days is a great way to make sure you're getting that time every week. Plan a specific day of the week (or two or three). Block it out on your schedules, anticipate it, and look forward to it.
The benefit of planning dedicated intimate time every week? You can lead up to that day and mentally prepare beforehand, so it's more fun when it does arrive. Text your spouse throughout the day, plan a fun date night if you can, and allow yourself to get excited for time with your spouse. Which leads into our next marriage tip...
5. Schedule Date Nights!
As important as it is to schedule intimate time, it's just as important to schedule date nights. This tip is important year-round, but even couples who have a consistent date schedule can get derailed by the holidays.
Plan a day of the week, or every other week if that works better for you. Invest in a babysitter (we know it's expensive, but it's so worth it! No price can compare to investing in your marriage).
It might be tempting to turn on a Christmas movie, make some hot cocoa, and check out for the night. Nothing is wrong with a little Netflix and chill, but make sure you're spending one-on-one face time with your spouse! Those date night conversations are the ones that grow your relationship, and even if you're tired at the end of the day, they are worth the effort.
You can check out a few cute date night ideas here for inspiration! Make sure to take advantage of the holiday season and go ice skating, gingerbread house-building, Christmas cookie making, or Christmas light watching with your spouse. You can also check out our Valentine's Day article on date night ideas here!
6. Develop a Realistic Christmas Schedule
Let's face it: holidays with relatives is stressful. As a married couple, you have not one but two (and sometimes more) families to juggle during the holidays, not including your own.
You're not going to please everyone during the holidays, and it's important to prioritize what is best for your immediate family first. Growing up, my family always reserved Christmas Eve as our Christmas, then spent Christmas morning with one set of grandparents and Christmas dinner with the other set. This worked great for our family, because we didn't feel rushed but we could still see all our relatives to celebrate.
You might try a similar plan with your family. Celebrate your Christmas morning on a different day so you can take your time and enjoy every moment with your kids. You could also try alternating holidays with in-laws. If your spouse's parents got Thanksgiving, your parents get Christmas (then switch every other year).
Having a plan your relatives can expect will *hopefully* reduce family drama, making the holidays less stressful for you and your spouse. Set clear boundaries, do what's best for your marriage and your kids, and set your holiday season up for the least stress possible.
7. Attack Problems Instead of Each Other
Problems will come up during the holiday season - there's no preventing it! Instead of burying your head in the sand, denying the inevitable, and trying to put out fires when they flare, prepare with fire protection before they problems even arise.
You and your spouse are a team. For better or for worse, you vowed to stick by their side through thick and thin, and that includes all the holiday problems too. When an issue arises (big or small), attack the problem instead of one another.
Try viewing the problem as a separate entity instead of your spouse. The problem is likely one of your faults, of course. But learning to separate the problem from your lifelong teammate, offering grace and forgiveness, and moving forward with a plan you can tackle together is the best way to diffuse conflict surrounding the holidays.
8. Plan Ahead & Don't Be Last Minute
A lot of holiday stress can come from planning last minute and scrambling when it's already too late. The best way to avoid this is - you guessed it - simply planning ahead.
Start your Christmas shopping early. Wrap the gifts as soon as they arrive, so they're ready to go and you aren't panicking on Christmas Eve night with your husband because nothing is wrapped.
You can also get holiday cooking and baking done early if you'd like. Making sweet goodies for Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas morning brunch? Make the dough ahead of time and freeze it.
Discuss with your spouse what you'd like to get done ahead of time so you're on the same page and can work toward that goal together. You'll be able to take the edge off that holiday stress by planning ahead, which means less chance for conflict this Christmas season!
9. Check In With Your Spouse (The Winter Blues are Real)
Winter weather is brutal, especially if your live in the midwest. You might not struggle with seasonal depression, but the cold gloomy weather takes a toll on everyone, whether the effect is serious or not.
You or your spouse might lose motivation to work out, get stressed and overwhelmed easier, and have a harder time finding the joy in the holiday season. Firstly, if that sounds relatable, be honest with your spouse about how you've been feeling. It'll help your spouse help you better, and having a teammate through the valleys is crucial.
Secondly, make sure to check in with your spouse. Ask how they've been feeling about the holidays, and if they've been anxious or discouraged lately. Give them the space to be honest with you, and listen before you speak.
It's so important to be on the same page with mental health as a married couple, and winter is a tough season! Tackle the problems together and discuss what will help moving forward.
10. Set a Realistic Budget
Financial strain is one of the leading issues between married couples, and Christmas multiplies that already tough problem x100. All those gifts for relatives, your kids, friends, coworkers, and each other add up over time.
There's no avoiding the added expense of Christmas shopping each December. So the best way to tackle that problem together without letting it come between you is by setting up a realistic Christmas budget for your fam.
I use EveryDollar for my year-round and Christmas budget, but there are tons of apps out there for budgeting. Decide on an app, budget a realistic amount for each family member, and stick to it. The key is to be on the same page with your spouse. Discuss every financial decision together, and make sure you both agree on it. If you've budgeted for Christmas gifts this year, you'll be less stressed about spending money on the holiday.
Pro tip: A great way to budget for Christmas is by starting in January! (Crazy, I know, but it's not a pro tip for no reason;) Start putting aside $100 each month into a Christmas sinking fund. By the time Christmas rolls around, you'll have $1,200 locked and loaded for any Christmas expenses, and you won't have to fork out of your savings in December to pay for them!
11. Create Your Own Traditions
Christmas is a sweet time of year to make memories with your spouse, and as you build your own family together, it's so important to create traditions that are unique to you.
Maybe you enjoyed baking sugar cookies with your family as a kid. Maybe your husband has fond memories of hosting a gingerbread house building competition growing up. Take the traditions your parents kept and tweak them to fit your lifestyle and family.
As long as you have some fun traditions as a family to look forward to every Christmas, you'll start to build excitement over the holiday season instead of dread for all that stress.
And feel free to make some traditions that are just for you and your husband! Maybe you plan an overnight getaway every first week of December to celebrate the holidays with a little alone time. Maybe you enjoy some eggnog and Die Hard after the kids go to bed on the weekend before Christmas. Find something that's fun for both of you and be intentional to make it happen!
This Too Shall Pass
Your holidays won't be perfect, and you'll probably hit a few bumps in the road. That's okay! The holidays don't last forever, and life will return to normal soon enough. Just don't let a fleeting season divide you and your forever teammate - you'll get through it:).
Hopefully these tips will help you this holiday season! Marriage is hard, and the holidays are even harder - but you got this mama. Happy holidays!