Staying Married through the Holidays: Mission...Possible?
They say "you can't go home again" but this coming holiday season, millions of us will defy both conventional wisdom and our better judgment and try anyway. For married couples, there are few more death-defying feats than negotiating each other's family-of-origin holiday traditions, cranky cousins, and unfamiliar foodstuffs. For some couples, the whole thing makes the idea of getting divorced by Labor Day and remarrying after New Year's Day—every year—seem oddly appealing.
Well, before you put your attorneys on retainer, here is a list of things you and your soul mate can do to survive, and maybe even thrive, during this holiday season.
1) Remember who your family is.
The day before we got married, both of our families went certifiably insane. There was more drama than a bad telenovela. (Is there such a thing as a "good telenovela"?) Our pastor rode with us to the rehearsal dinner and in response to our complaining about our respective kin said, possibly, the wisest thing anyone has ever told us, "Just remember, after the wedding, they aren't your family anymore. You are."
Did he mean that we would never have to see those crazy people again? We wish, but no. What he meant was, once you're married, your husband or your wife and your kids are the only family that matter. You need to remember that around the holidays. One of the biggest dangers in returning to your family-of-origin is that you can slip into old roles where you think of yourself more as son, or daughter, or little sister, or big brother instead of husband or wife. Remember who you really are, and you who came with, and who's taking you home later. Being mindful that you are married first will help you avoid turning on each other because you've turned into some strange being your spouse neither knows nor likes.
2) Have a plan.
A successful foray into enemy territory always begins with a plan. Before you see your family over the holidays, discuss a plan. How will you handle the problems that have arisen in the past if they come up again? As we remind listeners to our radio program, "Never underestimate the human capacity for being surprised by the same damn thing happening over and over again." If your mother-in-law commented on your weight, or ignored you, or inappropriately disciplined your children or any other thing the last time you visited, and the time before that, and the time before that, chances are—wait for it—it is going to happen again the next time you get together! We know, it's unbelievable, but still.
Rather than this being a depressing reality, anticipating these problems gives you power. It enables you to come up with a plan and have it at the ready if you need it. When Greg's parents consistently "forgot" to put the car seat in their car before taking our children on outings when they babysat, anticipating this problem and planning ahead enabled us to put the car seat in their car ourselves before even walking through the front door to drop the kids off. When Lisa's mother's negativity began to suck all the life out of Greg, anticipating this enabled us to come up with a plan that involved both slightly shorter visits and a list of ways to either redirect the conversation or leave the room for a few minutes without drawing too much attention to it.
The most important thing to remember about surviving the holidays is that you and your spouse are on the same team. Anticipate the problems each other may experience and demonstrate your desire to take care of each other by developing practical solutions before you are under the holiday gun.
Gregory K. Popcak is executive director of Pastoral Solutions Institute and the author of over a dozen popular books integrating Catholic theology and counseling psychology. Popcak's books include For Better . . . Forever!, Holy Sex!, and Parenting with Grace. Popcak is a regular contributor to Catholic Digest, Family Foundations, and others.
Since 2001, he and his wife and coauthor, Lisa Popcak, have hosted several nationally syndicated radio advice programs, including Heart, Mind and Strength, Fully Alive!, and, most recently, More2Life. They have also hosted two television series for EWTN: For Better . . . FOREVER and God Help Me!
Visit the Popcak's website here: http://www.exceptionalmarriages.com/