How to manage conflict in marriage this Christmas

When I was initially thinking for a title for this article I had considered, “Avoiding Conflict in Marriage this Christmas.” The advertising around this time of year conjures up images of families around a very calm and joyful table. For those of us who have been married for a while now, we know Christmas can inevitably throw up conflict in marriage and while avoiding it may be impossible, we can all learn to deal with it better. 

Where are we going to spend Christmas day? Why at your parents and not mine? 

Why does you sister have to be so difficult? 

Why can’t your family be more accommodating and why do they have to buy the children such expensive gifts, they know we can’t afford to buy their kids those presents. 

I hate how your family  ….. (drinks too much, swears [insert a myriad of other things here])

Why don’t you just speak to your siblings and see what they are organising?

My brother drives me insane! 

These simple lines will resonate in some form with many couples. As we begin to navigate planning the days of the Christmas season, it is also a time of year when work is crazier, we have more events to attend, the kids are on holidays, money is tight and time is even tighter. All this adds another layer of stress.

The anxiety and conflict may be inevitable, but the key is how we respond and deal with the conflict when it arises. Here are some tips

  1. Change the way you respond because it may be impossible to change others. You can control how you react and respond to different people and situations, but you may have no control over how others do.
  2. Don’t expect your spouse to be able to change their own family’s behaviour. In most instances they can’t. Discuss, as a couple, strategies about how to deal with the conflict situation and behaviour when they arise. 
  3. Limit the time you spend with people who trigger you and when it happens take a break even if it’s just five minutes to take a breather outside. 
  4. Eliminate sources of unnecessary stress. Do you really need to shop for this seasons Christmas furnishing trends or attend that Christmas event?
  5. Agree as a couple to calm yourself beforehand. Plan a walk on Christmas morning before going to Christmas lunch so that you are calm to deal with any dysfunction of family that comes your way. 
  6. Be aware of childhood issues that may be triggering you. It may be that you only experienced seeing your parent’s in conflict in the lead up to Christmas every year.  Be aware of it and break the cycle. You don’t have to do things the way your parents did them. Change the way you communicate with your spouse. Agree you are going to speak calmly, rationally and take a walk if things are getting heated, but do not avoid your spouse so that you can avoid the discussion. 
  7. Planning does not have to become a yelling match that descends into accusations and blame. You can break the mould and find ways to plan rationally without attacks. If you have an issue don’t wait until chaos descends to raise it – ‘remember at Easter when your sister called me fat?’ Waiting until Christmas and in the middle of a disagreement to raise something that has been brewing up inside you for months is not helpful.  
  8. Don’t avoid the planning simply to avoid conflict. Procrastination and lack of planning will eventually lead to chaos. Nothing is going to magically plan itself.
  9. Learn from conflict. Understand when and where the conflicts occur and how you have dealt with it. Reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t.
  10. It is ok to miss things. You don’t have to attend every single-family function planned. Shuffling your family to four different places on Christmas day is exhausting.  Plan to rotate between Christmas Eve and Christmas lunch each year and if your extended family won’t work with you or accommodate, you can miss the food and just turn up for a visit. It is nice to get the whole extended family together but when it does not happen you will soon realise it is not the end of the world.
  11. Focus on your own well-being. As a couple participate in a gratitude exercise in the lead up to Christmas. Take some time each day as a couple to share with each other one thing you are thankful for in your lives. Focusing on the good things in your life will lift your mood and help ease anxiety.  
  12. Consider participating in the Maronite Christmas fast in the lead up to Christmas. It begins on 15 December. Abstain from alcohol, video games, swearing or social media if they are impacting negatively on your life.  Distance yourself from those addictions or they will only make things worse in your marriage.
  13. Don’t concern yourself with what others have and you don’t. Trying to keep up with the Jones’s will only add more stress to your life and you probably won’t be able to anyway. Spend within your means because blowing the budget now will cause immense stress in the days after Christmas.
  14. This one should be first, but we have saved the best for last. Bring Christ back into Christmas and into your marriage. Remember Christ is truly the reason for the season.  Go to mass, engage with the Christmas novena and fast, read scripture together, make time for prayer together. Place icons and candles and burn incense in the home and in your bedroom. Build your own family rituals, do a rosary walk, help someone in need, visit a lonely neighbour. Most importantly, as a couple build the manger in your heart for Christ to lay in. Forgive each other, go to confession and bask in the love that Christ has bound you together in.

Theresa Simon

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