The holidays are here, and you know what that means? It’s time to get your game face on. The game is called Protect Your Spouse, and the objective is simple: try your best to watch out for your significant other, especially when it comes to family-related issues. You’re on the same team, whether it’s finding a positive, non-blamey way to explain why you can’t make it to the third family get-together, fielding phone calls from your mom, or pulling it together after having a difficult conversation on the car ride to dinner. The goal is to get through the holidays with your marriage not only intact, but stronger despite all the demands that are associated with holidays and family get-togethers.
To be clear: the opponents aren’t your family. They love you and just want to enjoy quality family time together– don’t we all? In our game analogy, think Pandemic: it’s more like us vs. the board. Sometimes you flip the cards and the situation is just not very favorable. It doesn’t do any good to point fingers at each other or the situation, but a lot of good can come out of making strategic and thoughtful choices. Here are a few practical ways you can care for and protect your spouse during the holidays!
Protect him with your words
This is always a good idea with anyone, but especially with family. Family gatherings are not the place to air your dirty laundry. It may bring you temporary satisfaction to vent a little (after all, we’re all family, right?), but one thoughtless comment could impact his reputation for years. While you may forget the flippant remarks you made about his inconsiderate actions last week, it can leave a lasting impression on your relatives.
This is also not the time to compare him with other men. Wow, John is so great about helping out while you entertain. Bob never does anything around the house– he just sits around and watches TV! Here’s an example of a simple but callous remark that doesn’t build anyone up, and definitely tears your husband down. It’s not like that comment will motivate Bob to start helping out more. Furthermore, it will serve to increase the sense of self-pity or discontentment you may already feel. Lose-lose.
So the next time you’re catching up in the kitchen with the ladies, watch what you say. Thoughtless words can have long-lasting repercussions. Instead, think of ways you can build up your significant other in front of your family. Tell them about how he recently fixed the leaky faucet. Share about the delicious dinner she made last week. Talk about how great he is with the kids. Tell how she recently got a good review at work. Share how he gave an outstanding presentation. Building your spouse up like this will show everyone that you appreciate and respect your spouse, and that is one of the best gifts that only you can offer.
Protect her from your mother
We personally don’t have a problem with this– both sets of our parents are incredibly considerate and respectful of our space. But sometimes I wonder if my future daughter-in-law will have it so easy. I don’t have any sons yet, but if I did, I imagine it’d be very hard to let go and let another woman care for him. As much as I feel for my friends whose mothers-in-law give them a hard time, I can kind of sympathize. With the mothers.
Future imaginary son: It is your job to protect her from me. If she feels like I am overbearing and have too many expectations, it is not only your job to be on her side, but it is also your job to interface with me about it. Don’t make her email me and tell me– you do it. You need to put her in a positive light for me. I find it easy to be critical, so I will probably find ways to nitpick at whatever either of you says that doesn’t go the way I want (sorry!). But it will probably be 100x easier for me to get over something difficult you tell me than something she tells me, because as much as I want to believe she’s just as much my daughter as you are my son, the truth is that I changed your diapers and not hers. It’s different.
Future grown-up daughter: If I tell you I plan to come visit and stay at your place for a month and he’s not too keen on the idea, it’s your job to find a gracious way to break the news to me. And it’s your job to do it without blaming him. While I’m sure you’d love nothing more than a month-long sleepover with the coolest mom ever, your husband is now your number one and you should treat him as such. This also goes for the times when you won’t make it out for a family dinner (sniffle) and for the day you decide to spend Christmas day with his family instead of ours (sob).
Regardless if it’s a grandma, aunt, mom, or sibling, it’s your job to interface with your side of the family for sticky subjects and to try to keep your spouse in a positive light.
Protect him from yourself
Let’s face it. At the end of the day, the person who has the most power to inflict damage on your marriage is not your extended family or mother (or mother-in-law): it’s you. With the onslaught of activity that defines your day-to-day life, there are always choices you can make to prioritize your spouse and your marriage. It might mean sacrificing other things you enjoy to make more time to spend together. Maybe it means passing up a promotion that would keep you at work longer.
Prioritizing your marriage may also simply involve choosing to be less awesome in something so that you will stress less and improve the quality of time you do have together. For example, I happen to think it’s a worthy goal to have home-cooked meals on the dinner table. As much as Ben appreciates it, though, I know he’d much rather go for takeout if that means I’d be happier and more relaxed in the evenings. (While I appreciate his easy out, I’m going to keep trying to fix my attitude before I decide to hang up my apron.)
There are so many variables and factors that affect a marriage relationship, from work to family to the economy to the weather. Out of all of them, the one we should have the most control over is ourselves. We can make loving choices, whether it’s how we talk about our spouse to others, how we choose to interface with our family members, or how we spend our time. All of these require some amount of sacrifice, but sacrifice is what gives love meaning.