Remember the crazy culminating scene of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? In his mad frenzy to create the perfect holiday, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) creates enough mayhem to bring the SWAT team crashing through his living room windows.
The moral of the story is that despite our best intentions, sometimes holidays end badly. The Griswolds remind us that the combination of high expectations plus high stress is not a winning equation.
In fact, the holiday season is littered with landmines that can trip up the happiest of couples. Let’s pick our way through some of the more explosive issues so you and your partner are spared Griswoldian holiday hell.
Landmine #1: Time crunch
Most of the couples I speak with tell me that scheduling is the No. 1 source of spousal strife around the holidays. He feels obliged to be with his parents, she feels obliged to hers. The timetabling tug-of-war leaves your own family with table scraps of time squeezed in-between requisite visits with in-laws.
Solution: Master the art of compromise.
As much as your families would love to dictate the terms of your timetable, the only two people controlling the holiday agenda are you and your partner.
First, let’s dispense with the faulty notion that compromise means giving in. It doesn’t. Most couples’ idea of compromise is this: either he acquiesces or I do. Wrong. Compromise is a creative exercise that results in a new arrangement that has the complete consensus of all parties. Break the mould. Start fresh. Build together.
Landmine #2: The money trap
In last week’s column we looked at the pitfalls of gift giving. One of the misfires we discussed involves money — one person lavishes the other, or family and friends, with presents while their partner winces, anticipating the coming credit-card crunch.
Solution: Money mapping
Much of this money mishap boils down to miscommunication. So, I recommend a strategy I call money mapping.
It works much like a shopping list, except that beside each item on the list — you’ll jot down a dollar amount. The dollars will need to add up to a pre-determined amount that the two of you mutually agree is a reasonable and feasible budget for holiday giving. And map out this budget well ahead of the gift-giving crunch so you can sail through the season stress-free.
Landmine #3: “Why do I have to do everything?”
The holidays are fun, yes, but those good times come at a cost — shopping, cleaning, organizing and entertaining all add to a family’s workload.
Invariably one of you is going to feel like he/she does the lion’s share. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing — unless that uneven division of labour breeds contempt. (See my 5 good ways to argue column to find out why that’s such a bad thing.)
Solution: Change your attitude
Adopt this simple mantra: do it lovingly, or don’t do it.
If you are the person in your partnership that bears the brunt of holiday prep and planning, maybe it’s because you are best at it. Maybe that’s your gift to the family. And maybe it’s a gift you could give freely. If not, if you simply must reconcile “to do” lists the way you do your cheque book, then pare down the list and spare yourself and your marriage.
Join relationship columnist Liza Finlay each week as she dishes on ways to keep you and your partner close through the rocky terrain that is marriage with kids.
Do you have an issue you’d like Liza to explore in a future column? Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave your comment below.