Marriage, divorce, family law, holidays, stress, anger, management, law firm of Greene and Wilson, New Bern NC

Don’t Let the Stress of the Holidays Ruin Your Marriage

As Christmas nears, it can be either a season of cheer or a season to fear. The stress of the holidays, with all its planning, negotiating (whose parents should you visit this year?) and the financial strain of gift-giving can make you want to throw away the mistletoe. Don’t let Christmas pull you and your spouse apart.

Between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year, you’re crazy busy. And if you’re married, that may mean the holidays take priority over your spouse for two months of the year.

It’s easy to fall into that trap, but the last thing you want is to sabotage your marriage. Because this time of year is notoriously stressful and hectic, keeping an open line of communication with your spouse is more important than ever.

You both want what is best for your family—and each other. But when you’re trying to schedule Christmas parties, order gifts for family and friends, and get the house prepared for your visiting in-laws, you might forget your spouse is actually your teammate.

But here’s the thing: You’ll have a better, happier holiday if you make sure to prioritize your marriage during the holiday madness. Your family and your relationship with your spouse will be better if both of you are on the same page and working together—instead of running in opposite directions.

Here are a few ideas from Focus on the Family that might help you keep your marriage in perspective…and keep the seasonal stress at a minimum during this busy time of year.

Gift Giving

Buying gifts for everyone on your list can put a lot of financial and emotional stress on a couple. On the Holmes and Rahe psychological stress scale, Christmas traditions are listed as more stressful than minor law violations, and financial difficulties rank equal to the death of a close friend! Combined!

  • Set a budget: Keep the “ghost of Christmas past” from haunting your credit card statements and your thoughts. Look at your finances together and create a realistic spending limit for the Christmas season. Account for any upcoming expenditures you may have in the new year. Marriage therapist Marion Goertz recommends enlisting an objective third party if you and your spouse can’t agree on a budget.
  • Make a list and check it twice: Work with your spouse to determine exactly who’ll be receiving gifts. If your budget is tight, don’t be afraid to take cost-cutting measures. For example, you could give one gift per family instead of to each individual.
  • Get creative: You don’t have to buy presents from the mall. Baked goods and handmade crafts can be budget-friendly and memorable.
  • Don’t wait until December 24: Last-minute shopping is rushed, stressful, and often offers up nothing but the slimmest of pickings. Keep an eye out for sales all year and store the gifts until Christmas. If you plan in advance, you’ll save money and cut down on stress.

The In-laws

Decking the halls is great; decking your in-laws? Not so much. Holiday stress, paired with disagreements with or about your spouse’s parents, can make you want to climb up the chimney.

  • Talk to your spouse: Disagreements with or about your in-laws can make your spouse feel threatened or defensive, and likewise for you if your spouse doesn’t get along with your parents. Make it clear that you love your spouse unconditionally and that any holiday tensions, big or small, don’t change that.
  • Take a break: At a family gathering, don’t wait until you’re so frustrated that you engage in a verbal conflict. If things start grating on your nerves, take a break and step away from the situation. A walk outdoors or a quick jaunt to the store can give you the breathing space you need to calm down before things get out of control.
  • Plan ahead: Waiting until the Christmas season to announce that you’re not planning to attend Christmas dinner can create disappointment or resentment in your in-laws. Plan your holiday schedule with your spouse months in advance and alert each set of in-laws about your plans.
  • Look inward: Sometimes, it’s not the in-laws who are grumpy and disagreeable. You may not be able to change them, but you can change yourself and your personal reaction to situations.

Enjoy the Season Together

It’s easy to be swept up in the consumerism of the season, but remember that it isn’t about money and materialism. Focusing on its religious purpose or enjoying time with your loved ones can keep you from stressing over less important things.

  • Discuss expectations: Everyone has a different childhood tradition or expectation that defines the holiday for them. Talk to your spouse about the seasonal practices and traditions that mean the most to you. Together, you can create new traditions that encompass both of your expectations so no one’s left feeling like the holiday lacked a little luster.
  • Share the to-do list: Whether it’s stringing the lights or hanging the stockings, share the common Christmas tasks. Not only does it make the work fly by faster, but it’s also an opportunity to spend time together, enjoying another treasured aspect of the Christmas tradition.
  • Be generous: Giving to others during Christmas, you can capture the true essence of the season. From serving at a local soup kitchen to volunteering in your church’s Christmas performance, getting involved in the community reminds us of what Christmas really means.

Having these conversations with your spouse will keep you on the same page and remind you both you’re in this together. You’re going to be less stressed if you know you’re working with the same goals in mind–freeing you to enjoy the holidays rather than stress about how you’re going to get everything done.

And keep this in mind: You don’t have to do it all. You can make the holidays memorable without making them perfect…and that’s perfectly okay.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact Greene Wilson Crow & Smith by calling (252) 634-9400 or visiting

(Sources: National Retail Federation; Las Angeles Times; Ramsey Solutions; U.S. News and World Report; Australian Securities & Investments Commission; USA Today; and Focus on the Family Canada.)