George Bailey, the lead character in It’s A Wonderful Life, was no stranger to stress and hardship during Christmas of 1946, enduring bankruptcy, dishonesty and an attempted suicide. It took all of this – plus some tough lessons from a guardian angel – for him to eventually realize that life is, in fact, wonderful.

Maybe you identify with Mr. Bailey when Christmas comes around. While it is a wonderful time of the year, it can also be taxing on relationships, energy and finances. Married couples face the yearly decision of which in-laws they’ll celebrate Christmas day with; families wade through an array of invites to parties and events; and post-holiday credit card bills can bring out anyone’s inner Scrooge. Consequently, all the social gatherings, travel time and shopping trips can make it difficult to emotionally connect with your spouse, let alone reflect on the holiday’s eternal significance.

Want to avoid burnout and frustration this year? Give your spouse the three best gifts you can give – communication, time and perspective – and reconnect with the true meaning of Christmas as a couple.

The gift of communication

The holiday season involves a lot of decisions. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page regarding these three significant areas.

  • Gift budget. According to a Bank of Montreal survey, individual Canadians are expected to spend as much as $1,397 during the 2012 Christmas season – most of this going toward entertainment costs. Be sure to set a budget before you start shopping and planning. Sit down with your spouse and determine who you will give gifts to, what you will spend in total and how to disperse that budget among those on your gift list. If you want to give to more people than is financially do-able, consider less expensive gifts like baked treats or homemade crafts.
  • Social calendar. Don’t burn yourselves out by trying to attend every work party, family get-together, school play and church event that comes with the Christmas season. As a couple, decide which things are the most practical for your marriage and then attend accordingly. For example, if time and money are relevant factors, determine which events are closest to home (e.g., less traveling) and which are the least taxing on your budget (e.g., ticket prices verses free admission).
  • Time between your families. Your in-laws will likely want to spend Christmas with you – and each set may want you to spend several days with them. Discuss how you will balance your time between the two families, especially if you have limited time off work. For example, if both sets of parents live within a reasonable distance, try spending Christmas Eve with one set and Christmas day with the other. If they’re far apart, consider alternating between your family one year and your spouse’s the next year.

The gift of time

It’s no surprise that date nights can be vital for the future health of your marriage. According to a study published by the Australian government’s Institute of Family Studies, the longest-married couples held up memories and shared experiences as a chief factor in their relationships. The busy Christmas season, though, can make a date night seem elusive. Consequently, experts note that couples may experience a strain in their marriage if they don’t intentionally set time aside for each other. "When a marriage is filled with more withdrawals than deposits, it’s easy to forget why you married in the first place," James Walker writes in Husbands Who Won’t Lead & Wives Who Won’t Follow.

  • End-of-an-errand date. Stop at a coffee house on your way home from a shopping trip. Don’t take it to go; stay for a little while and talk about stuff other than Christmas details. More than anything, enjoy this time together.
  • Romantic drives. Think there’s so much running around that you and your spouse don’t have time for a date? We’ve got you covered. Check out our list of heart-to-heart questions. Write questions on small strips of paper and put them in an envelope. Have the passenger pull them out to read while the other is driving. Who said a trip to the mall store can’t be romantic?

The gift of perspective

Has all this talk about shopping and running around distracted you from the true meaning of Christmas? Do you or your spouse go into hyper drive when the holiday season approaches? Does this stress create tension in your marriage?

Set aside some time to reflect on the Christmas story and, as a couple, celebrate the lasting hope we have thanks to Christ’s birth: "But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord’" (Luke 2:10-11).

Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.

© 2012 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.  

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