Editor’s Note: This post is by Simple Marriage contributor Mary Ann Crossno.
You’ve made it through Thanksgiving.
How did your day of thanks stack up to your expectations [definition: planned disappointment]?
Now you have 24 days until Christmas and 31 days until the New Year. What are you expecting to happen during this time?
Where do our expectations about this time of year come from?
The beginnings of our holidays are grounded in significance:
- Thanksgiving began as a time to thank God for the harvest and express gratitude to others for our many blessings.
- Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, celebrates the victory of the Maccabees, the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple, and the miracle of the oil that burned for 8 days.
- Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus, whose coming marked God’s gift to all of a new relationship with Him.
Today society’s holiday messages represent a cultural push and pull toward “idealized togetherness.” We’re saturated with Norman Rockwell scenes of family gatherings, Currier and Ives scenes of a winter wonderland, and Fifth Avenue’s illusions of all the happiness money can buy.
It’s a time of year that inflames emotions with a definite positive tilt – we’re supposed to be at our best. We’re expected to look our best, wear our best, serve our best, and display our best.
It’s the time of year when relationships seem to be under a microscope. “We-ness” expectations run rampant. “We” should want, feel, think, the same, or at least very similar, things about the holidays – how we celebrate them, what they mean to us, what we think about them.
How do the expectations of the holiday season impact your marriage?
Take some time to think back on the patterns of your relationship around the holidays. Does one take on the role of Santa while the other plays Scrooge? Does one rack up debt that the other works all year to pay off? Does one get giddy and while the other fights the blues? How do your holiday differences reflect unresolved differences that simmer the rest of the year?
Patterns are the hallmark of human behavior – we are what we repeatedly do. The only way to be different begins with identifying our patterns. We can’t change what we won’t acknowledge.
I married when I was 22 and became the instant Mom to a 9 year old daughter and 7 year old son, who had been abandoned by their biological mom. I wanted to make Christmas magical for them. Many of my own childhood Christmases were filled with more sadness than happiness – and that happiness always centered on great food – cooking, eating, and sharing it. For many years I worked to create an idealized version of Christmas for my family – the two kids I inherited, the one I gave to birth to, my husband, and most of all – to me. Each Christmas seemed to outdo the one before.
My husband loved our ability to take in his small extended family to our Christmas, and he loved our Christmas angel tradition [taking in an unexpected guest – someone alone for Christmas that came our way]. He didn’t love the excess spending. As a self-employed man running a business, he was caught each December with end of the year deadlines on projects in direct conflict with celebrating that started the weekend before Thanksgiving and lasted until after New Year’s Day.
When our children no longer lived at home, I was eager to continue many of the traditions I had established in our marriage. We settled into a pattern of him dreading the holidays and me feeling unappreciated for my efforts to “make” the holidays special. It took more than one holiday season for me to recognize my contribution to the funk. I had to give up the expectation that we were going to move through the holidays as one joyous organism.
I did it by asking myself this question [given to me by my therapist!]:
- How could I extend myself for the well-being of my partner?
Here’s how I answered that question around our holiday differences: I asked him what he would like [walks and movies] and would not like [six weeks of focus]. I told him what I needed and wanted to make me feel festive [cooking a great meal and a tree]. Anything and everything else that comes up on the holiday radar is optional and negotiable. It worked. It’s still working.
As a gift to yourself and to your relationship this holiday season, how will you answer the question:
- How can you extend yourself for the well-being of your partner?