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A few years ago my wife and I, along with our three children, were traveling to see family over Christmas break. We were staying at an aunt’s house who had recently moved into a new area. The atmosphere of our car was not very joyful after getting the kids packed up and loaded, refereeing their fights and navigating a new city.  Tensions were rising with each wrong turn and “I need to go to the bathroom” shout out.  At this point my wife was no longer talking to me.

Holiday and travel stress are real and oftentimes heightened during Christmas breakWe have found that the majority of the stress is centered around our communication. After many years of travel, my wife and I have discovered 5 conversations to have before Christmas break to help our marriage thrive.

1. Finances  

“How much did you spend?” is a question that gets thrown around in our family often but especially during the holidays. I want to spoil our children with all the great gifts, whereas my wife wants us to stay on a good budget. I think we should use the same decorations each year instead of buying new ones, but my wife insists that the tree cannot look the same every year. Money can be a source of tension during Christmas, but it doesn’t have to be.  

Set a time (on your calendar) to communicate about your budget and commit to staying on track. When compromise is needed talk through it together instead of just making the purchase. If money is the source of tension during Christmas break you cannot ignore it and expect it to go away. Address what is going on! Commit to planning ahead and communicate efficiently together so finances will not be the source of frustration for both of you.  

2. Travel Plans  

“How are we getting there?” is a question that may arise when you have multiple travel plans to see extended family and friends. It doesn’t matter if you are going a few miles away or getting on a plane for hours, travel causes stress. How we handle the oncoming stress is different for each marriage, but a few principles hold true for every couple.  

Take the time to communicate all of the logistics together before you step out the door.  If possible, talk through everything a few days or weeks in advance. It sounds simple but assuming the other person knows what the plan is often ends in fighting in the car or even the airport.  Talking through your plans may also help you be more efficient in your travel as one partner may have a better plan. The key is to plan it together.  

3. Work  

Spouses who work outside of the home are often asked “When do you get off?” or “What time will you be home?”  There are many reasons for this question, it might be asked by a mom at home with the kids wanting a break. Or maybe dad is planning dinner and wanting to know when to have it ready. Miscommunication about work hours and inconsistent schedules can cause tension during Christmas break.   

Communicate your work and holiday schedules together. If anything changes, even if you will just be 10 minutes late getting home from work, communicate the change right away. Its harder than ever to leave work at work, especially with more people than ever working from home. If you are on Christmas break or have days off but need to check emails or phone calls, creating a “work window” will cause less frustration. Establish a time each day to check on work related tasks. Be sure to communicate and coordinate that window with your spouse.

 4. Expectations  

“Why didn’t you think of that?” is a question that comes out when expectations are not communicated. One year my wife got upset with me because I forgot to bring a present she left on the washing machine that she never asked me to grab. Many of us get frustrated because of unmet expectations for the holidays but how many of us communicate those expectations with our spouse?  

 In our minds we play this movie clip of how we think everything is going to go and when it doesn’t happen that way, we find ourselves frustrated. It is almost impossible to talk through every single situation, but we can help each other by simply communicating expectations. When we communicate, we also need to listen. What things do you want to be special this year? What traditions are not as important? What are some new things we want to do this year? Having clear expectations not only makes the holidays more enjoyable, it also brings us closer together.  

5. Family  

“What is wrong with your mother?” Though this may be a question you often think, it is never a question you should ask. Sadly, family can be the sources of stress if we fail to communicate with each other. As a couple, our marriage should be the most important relationship we have. Do not let family members cause friction between you and your spouse.

Overbearing or passive in-laws can be frustrating. The one aunt in the family that is a little crazy can make you pull your hair out. Your cousin’s kids who destroys your house can make you want to lose it. Family is amazing but also can cause stress in your marriage, the key is to communicate about these things. Have a game plan together when you foresee things getting a little sideways. Talk it through and commit to always have each other’s back first.   

Bobby Cooley
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