This great holiday season is a special time of the year for most of us, but it can also include some activities that can be very stressful. One of the stresses for married couples is that the busy-ness of the season, added to the stress of everyday life makes it difficult for them to keep their relationship running smoothly. We don’t know any way to totally relieve the pressures, but we have found some ways to keep in touch with each other through the rush of activity and that helps to make the whole season go more smoothly.
For many years Rita has done most of the Christmas shopping – at least the part involved in finding the gifts we want to get. For a time I tried to help, but my attempts never seemed to be as good as hers. Eventually I stopped trying. When we were both working I took on the task of going with her sometimes and giving input to the decision about what to buy. When we had decided, I would go out on a work day and buy the things we had decided upon, since my job gave me that flexibility. I always had the nagging feeling that I wasn’t doing my share, but it helped Rita and so it was. We have always shared the gift wrapping.
Many people spend the holidays, especially the days around Christmas, with family. When our children were young, we spent Christmas Eve and day at home, then drove six hours to our families and spent several days there with parents and at large family parties. That put stress on all of us. Sometimes the kids weren’t eager to leave their new toys and spend a lot time on the road. We always enjoyed our families, but it was not home and being with other people all the time took a toll on us. It was always a relief to get back home.
Today, our home is the one that our children travel to – coming from Ohio, Connecticut and Chicago and staying with us in the Chicago suburbs for several days. Fortunately, everyone can find a little private space and we all get along well, but our big house is full with 14 or 15 people at different times. It is a level of activity way above our everyday life. There is constant cooking and laundry every day. We have eased some of the burden of cooking and cleanup by dividing up the days of the week and giving each family a day to cook dinner. They are responsible for the menu, food purchase, cooking and cleanup. Other people usually step in and help, but it somebody is in charge and it has definitely reduced the burden on Rita, who had always taken responsibility for all of it. Everyone’s favorite dinner, soup and pie night, gets divided up – Rita bakes several pies and a cobbler, with help from the older grandkids, and a couple of the boys and I make different kinds of soup.
Overall, the week is hectic, but great fun. At the same time, all of the adults feel some strain. It is hard for our married children to find time to be together and focus on just the two of them. We have discovered several ways to reduce the strain of being with so many people for several days. The group is quite tolerant when someone disappears for an hour or two into the library or a bedroom to read a book or take a nap. Sometimes a couple will go into their room for a while, knowing that other people will watch their children and no one will disturb them. The women may go shopping for a while, letting the men watch the kids and another day we will switch and the men go out. Each of the couples usually finds a reason to go somewhere sometime during the week – to shop for their family, get medicine for a sick child or buy groceries when it’s their turn to cook. They usually go as a couple with no kids, sometimes they grab lunch for the two of them – it is a way to have a little time for each other. Some years we have babysat and our kids get a chance to go out and be adults together and catch up on each other’s lives. It some ways it gives them a chance to have a date and go out with friends and have fun.
Rita and I have had some years in which the strain was obvious.. These days I try very hard to help oversee the cooking and cleanup and to assist the kids and grandkids in periodic straightening and toy pickup. In the mornings we get up with the kids and help to get breakfast for them. The oldest grandkids can now watch the smaller ones, which makes it easier for us, but we still willingly consider ourselves to be “on call”. It is a little extra gift we give our children by letting them sleep in a little. This year our son and his wife with the newborn won’t have the luxury but maybe we will find a way to make that happen for them as well. When everybody is here, the men tend to stay up later than the women, so I often go up to our room when Rita does and spend a little time with her as our sons do with their wives before we get back together as guys to visit.
Regular physical contact (not just sex) is important to us. In our daily lives we almost always touch the other any time we are near each other. Sometimes we just brush our hands together or pat the other on the back or elsewhere on their anatomy. Sometimes we pause for a hug and a kiss. When we shop together, we often hold hands. Rita frequently comes in the den as she is going by and plants a kiss on my bald spot. Along with the touching we tend to tease each other and that is even more fun. During the holidays we can still do those things, but in the rush of activity it is harder to maintain. This year I am committed to keep the physical contact at a higher level. Our grandson is fascinated with mistletoe and wants to know what it means. I’m considering getting some this year and putting it in a doorway that everybody uses so that will all have a reason and a reminder to kiss or hug each other.
The stories above don’t mean that everything is always perfect. People still feel strain and occasionally there is some tension, but these ideas have made a significant difference and overall help to make things run smoothly. We’re sure our children and grandchildren are relieved to get home as we were when they were young. We are a little relieved, too, as we are struck by the silence in our house, but we wouldn’t miss any of it.
We hope your Christmas and this season is a great time for your family and especially for your coupleness. We hope this sharing helps.
Do you have a story to tell us and our readers? Leave a comment below.
Bob & Rita’s book: Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime, is available on Amazon.com. Also available for Kindle and Nook.