When Wives Are the CEOs of Christmas Joy

They handle more than their fair share — but to avoid conflict and stress, check out this savvy insight

I’ll admit it: I’ve often left to my wife the responsibility of buying Christmas gifts for the kids and managing our entire family’s holiday social calendar. It’s no wonder her stress level rises this time of year. Perhaps that’s why she’s suggested now and then that we take a family vacation at Christmastime.

Both men and women cope with holiday stress by eating more unhealthy foods, increasing their alcohol use, and spending more time in sedentary activities such as sleeping more and watching TV, the American Psychological Association reported. A study the group did found that most women experience holiday stress at higher levels than men. In most homes, it’s the women who take the lead to ensure their family has a merry Christmas.

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As the CEOs of Christmas joy, women take on these top three holiday stressors: managing finances, time, and the social calendar.

Having watched my wife go through this stress cycle several times, I’ve taken the initiative in recent years to partner with her in managing the increased obligations and expectations of the Christmas season. Here are three key areas in which married couples can work together in ways that lower Christmas stress and increase the opportunities for joy:

1.) Financial Planning
Men tend to spend a lot more than women on holiday giving, according to the marketing research firm Ask Your Target Market. The National Retail Federation also reported that men are more likely than women to procrastinate on holiday shopping. These combined tendencies increase the likelihood of men bearing the blame for busting the Christmas budget as they hunt for last-minute gifts.

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When husbands and wives share holiday expenses, they can neutralize much of the conflict over Christmas spending by talking about it early. It’s a good idea for a couple to discuss their financial situation, agree on a gift-giving budget, and develop a plan for paying the post-holiday bills. (It sounds so straightforward! But it doesn’t always happen, of course.) If your family has holiday travel plans, take these expenses into account as well.

Managing stress this time of year might mean saying “No” to activities that can clog your calendar.

If you’re going to shop separately for some gifts, agree on individual spending limits that fit within the overall budget. If you’ll be giving gifts from both of you to your children, grandkids, extended family, and friends, consider choosing those gifts together. Also discuss ways to save on spending.

2.) Time Planning
The Christmas social calendar can get complicated with the demands of work parties, gatherings with family and friends, church programs, and school events. Couples often keep separate calendars. When they fail to synchronize calendars around Christmas activities — the stage is set for trouble.

To avoid unnecessary trouble, sit down together with a printed December calendar and write on it the dates and times of your family’s holiday activities. It’s best to do this before buying tickets, accepting invitations or making commitments to attend. Write on the calendar who in your household will attend each activity. When kids’ activities are part of the holiday planning, review the dates with them. Then post the calendar on the family bulletin board or refrigerator — some place where it can be easily referenced all season long.

Related: The Annual Lights Fight: A Family Tradition

Managing stress this time of year sometimes means saying “No” to some activities that can fill your calendar. When there are a lot of activities to juggle, it can help lower stress by listing the available activities in order of importance and saying “No” to those that end up near the bottom of the list.

3.) Social Planning
In-laws will probably want to spend time with your family at Christmastime, especially when grandchildren are involved. Splitting holiday time between extended family can get complicated, especially when they are separated by hundreds of miles. This is more complicated when divorces and remarriages have expanded the number of homes that want time with you or your children.

Feelings can easily be hurt, jealousies can surface — and couples often find themselves caught in the middle, wanting to please both sides of the family.

Start discussions early about how you can balance the time between your families. Take into consideration social invitations from friends, as well. Avoid locking yourself into solutions early if it means you’re going to close your mind to alternatives. The best solution may be one you haven’t considered.

Couples can brainstorm with each other for a week, first suggesting several possible solutions without evaluating them. Write each proposed solution on a sticky note, and post each note on a wall. At the end of the week, review the proposed solutions together. Evaluate their potential. Add new alternatives that come to mind, and consider combining solutions.

Keep the solutions that might work, toss the notes of those that won’t — then choose the ones you can agree on together.

Jon Beaty, life coach and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”

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