Avoiding Christmas Disappointment: How to Get Over the Christmas Clash

by | Dec 12, 2018 | Resolving Conflict | 12 comments

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By 4 a.m. on Christmas morning, my brother-in-law’s house is bustling. Wrapping paper is flying, Christmas music is playing, and laughter is bubbling.

But it’s not the kids who wake everyone up at 4. It’s my brother-in-law. He does Christmas BIG.
My house is very different. We try to sleep in until at least 8:30 (my kids are grown, after all), and then we do stockings and get out the hot chocolate and take things very leisurely.
Much as I love my brother-in-law, I’d be driven nuts if I were married to him, because I just could never get that excited about presents. He, on the other hand, would likely be driven nuts by me because I’d be throwing a damper on Christmas.

Do you and your husband see eye to eye on Christmas, or do you do the Christmas Clash?

I had a wife tell me once that her husband bought her a digital bathroom scale for Christmas, which has to be the Worst Gift Ever. If your husband buys awful Christmas presents, especially if you drove yourself to exhaustion all month getting things perfect for Christmas, you’d likely be pretty ticked.
On Wednesdays I like to talk about a particular marriage theme, and this month we’re talking about boundaries. Let’s take responsibility for the things that do fall into our realm, but leave those that do not. Last week I talked about how to take a step back when there’s nothing you can do to change things. This week I want to do the opposite. Let’s actually be proactive where things ARE in our sphere of influence.
So if you want to avoid that ticked off Christmas morning feeling–Get proactive and do something about it now! Here are just a few thoughts:

1. To Avoid Awful Christmas Presents, Lay Out What You Expect for a Gift

If gifts are important to you, tell him what you expect. In detail. Don’t expect him to read your mind! Maybe you’ve been hinting for months that you want a Keurig coffee maker or a Kindle, but he hasn’t really picked up on it. A lot of guys don’t. I firmly believe in making it easy for people to buy me gifts. Here are just a couple of ways to simplify things:

  • Create a Wish Liston Amazon and add anything you would actually like. They don’t even have to buy it at Amazon, but it’s an easy way for your husband, kids, parents, or friends to see everything, all at once, that you would enjoy.
  • Start a Pinterest Board called “Gifts I’d Like”. You can’t get easier than that!
  • Tell your best friend in detail what you’d like, and then tell your husband to ask her advice. Ditto for children, if your kids are older. My youngest daughter knows a number of possible gifts I’d like for her to tell her dad (and her sister!)

And have an honest conversation about it, too, where you agree on how much you’ll each spend on each other. If debt is a problem for you, and he’s really dedicated to paying it off, then he may honestly feel that it’s not right to spend $100 or more on something for you. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you; it may just be that he wants to be responsible. If you each agree to a spending limit, then there’s less likelihood of a big surprise (like you buy him a 4 wheeler and he gets you a blender).
My husband and I have the opposite problem. I’m really not big on gifts (gifts are a NEGATIVE love language; on the whole I’d rather not get them because I feel obligated or awkward, and I buy myself the stuff I do want anyway). So when I tell my husband to NOT get me anything, and we agree that we won’t, I often stick to it, but he doesn’t. And then it’s awkward all over again.
I’ve had to ask him to be totally honest with me about whether he’s planning on getting anything, and how much he wants to spend, so that I can then try to be creative with gift ideas for him. I think I’ve made his Christmas less fun in the past because I can be a bit of a Scrooge, so I’ve tried to get myself more “in the mood” over the last few years.

2. The Person Who Cares About It More Should Take Responsibility For It

Here’s another scenario: you have visions of the family Christmas carolling, and baking cookies, and going out shopping, you with half the kids and him with half the kids, as you work through a list together. At the end you’ll meet up for some hot cocoa in the mall, and you’ll have the kids sit on Santa’s knee. It’ll be wonderful!
But he really doesn’t want to go to the mall. He doesn’t care much about baking. Sure, he likes Christmas, but he’s tired, and he’d rather do his Christmas shopping in a hurry, without the kids to drag along.
Or perhaps you have a Christmas card list of 150 people, including many of HIS old university friends, and you’d really like it if he would sit down and do the Christmas cards with you, or at least address the envelopes. But it’s like pulling teeth.
Do you get mad at him for it?
I think that’s a little unfair. You have one vision of Christmas that involves a lot of activity, but he has another vision. And one of the things that we often get most upset about our spouse for is that they’re not excited about the things we’re excited about.

We want them to FEEL it, not just DO it.

Avoiding Disappointment this Christmas

That’s asking too much. If it means more to you, then you should take more responsibility for it. It’s not fair to ask him to be excited about something he’s just not excited about.
Now, if there are a whole bunch of things that must be done, like buying presents for his nieces and nephews and parents, or picking up all the groceries for the big dinner you’re cooking, or mailing packages, it’s perfectly reasonable to sit down and list all the things that need to be done and then divvy it up. But it’s not reasonable to ask him to do things that are “extras”–and Christmas cards and sitting on Santa’s lap are extras, even if it doesn’t seem that way to you–and to be excited about it. He may see Christmas in a very different way from you, and that’s honestly okay.

3. Create New Christmas Traditions

If you both approach Christmas differently, then what about finding a third way–another way to do Christmas that’s different from what either of you envisioned? One thing that our family has done for the last few years is Board Game Boxing Day, where we stay in our pjs all day and go through the board games we have (I usually buy a new one for the family each year). It’s really fun! And it’s not something either of  us did as kids.
Another big tradition is the Christmas Eve service. It seems like all of us are involved in one way or another–my girls with music (and sometimes me), or any of the four of us in drama. So Christmas Eve has become not about presents at all, but about church and worship, and it’s wonderful. Now we have that to look forward to.
For many families, the biggest source of tension is that you CAN’T seem to create your own traditions because you’re expected to play musical chairs all through the holidays, visiting everyone’s family and never being at home. And if divorce was a factor in your parents’ marriages, it’s even more complicated.
Pick a time when you’re not stressed, sit down with your hubby over coffee, and ask, “what do we really want our Christmas schedule to look like?” When Rebecca has kids, for instance, we’ll be changing our Christmas schedule, because I don’t expect her to travel. We’ll rent an Air B&B and travel to them, rather than making them come home to see us. Talk it through with your hubby and see what you can come up with so that you both can look forward to Christmas. Sometimes one of the reasons we dread the season is all of the traveling. It’s okay to sometimes say no.

4. Leave Some Space to Breathe

Perhaps the most important thing about Christmas–leave some space somewhere to breathe–to have fun as a couple, and a family. To sit around in your pyjamas. To think about the meaning of the season. To not be rushing around to everyone’s houses trying to visit family, and you leave no time to enjoy your own.
You’re much less likely to be annoyed with your hubby if you have some downtime to spend with him.
When you’re making your Christmas plans, then, remember that your marriage is more important than all of this fuss. Make sure you do things this month to make your marriage smoother, not to put bumps on the road. And if that means doing Christmas smaller, do it. If it means doing Christmas bigger (like it does for me!), then do that too. But in all, keep the focus where it should be: that we have a loving God who left Paradise to live among us, so that He could make a way for us to live forever with Him. That’s a wonderful thing to celebrate, and don’t let bathroom scales steal that joy.
How do you avoid Christmas disappointment? Or how do you get over the Christmas stress of travelling? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. CAS

    I’ve been happily filling my own stocking for years and I always get exactly what I love! (Usually some form of treat like chocolate goes in our stockings, so it’s nice to get a little something so it’s not empty.)

  2. Lindsey

    Creating breathing room is a big one for me, I can get pretty overwhelmed and tired with go, go, go. So I’ve figured out that its better and easier if my husband and I sit down at the beginning of the holidays and decided what is the most important to us and try to forget about the other stuff. We’ve also started a couple new traditions since we’ve had kids, we light an advent candle each night with a devotion starting at the beginning of advent. That’s been meaningful and fun.

  3. Bethany

    So, we aren’t traveling for the holidays for the first time, and I’m VERY excited. Making more space and enjoying myself instead of trying to make everything perfect is very much what I’m going for this year.
    My question is about gifts – I love gifts, my husband generally feels exactly as you do, and while he is actually great at picking out gifts, it stresses him out *so much*. I try to be really upfront about what I want, but honestly, what I want out of a gift is the feeling that “someone was thinking about me when I wasn’t there, and thought of something I would like without me having to spell it out for them in perfect detail.” So while I like presents that I was explicit about, the real love language of gifts, for me, is having the feeling that people have spent enough time knowing me that they would have some idea what I would like, and put in some effort to think about what I might like.
    Any ideas about how to navigate that? I’ve not yet figured it out.
    My husband is fantastic, by the way. Gifts have always been a struggle, but he’s just amazing.

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      Hi Bethany! I’m also gift obsessed, so I thought I’d chime in.
      Honestly, my husband and I do a rather weird Christmas exchange – we pick a gift to get ourselves as a couple together. It works really well and I’m always super happy with the treat we picked.
      Like you, I love a thoughtful gift. But there are other people in my life who give lovely gifts, so I get my fill from that.
      One gift giving suggestion I’d have is for your husband to master a website for online shopping. My dad is forever getting good deals at Sierra Trading Post and I have a love for Shutterfly that borders on obsession. Getting to know the website, where to find coupons, etc makes shopping a lot less stressful.
      Hope those suggestions are at lest marginally helpful!

  4. Cara

    My mom has always been good at gifts and made birthdays and Christmas fun and made you feel special. Nothing over the top-just right.
    My husband was not raised that way. At all. His parents don’t even acknowledge our kids’ birthdays (or mine when my husband said it was my birthday!!!).
    So as you can imagine this has caused some tears and upset over the years.
    Our semi-solution has been that we don’t do gifts for each other. We agree to have a date or an overnight as soon as possible. Quality time is actually my love language anyways (I’d say it’s in his top 2 also) so it’s the best gift.
    I still get a little sad to feel “blown off” on my birthday or mother’s day but I have to remind myself that he is a good husband-he’s just not good at that.

  5. Ashley

    Can I ask a question that doesn’t apply to me anymore, because I’m divorced, but may help someone else?
    My family chooses not to exchange gifts. We prefer to really focus on spending time together and making memories. Besides, there have been times when gift-giving is just too hard financially for some members of the family.
    I married into a family that really gets into gift-giving. It was really stressful for me, because I went from not having to buy for anyone to having to buy for a whole family of people I didn’t know that well yet. And my ex-husband was no help, because he hates holidays/special occasions. He never had gift suggestions or anything; it was all on me.
    So you see my (previous) dilemma. Neither of us was into it. I was just doing it for his family. Would you have any advice for anyone who finds themselve in a similar situation?

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I’m so not a gift person, so I feel your pain 🙂
      I think there is something to be said for being known for doing one thing and doing it well. If you hate giving gifts but gifts are expected, find your “thing.” My parents always bought books or card/board games for my cousins. My grandparents always got us kids a pair of pyjamas and some Lifesaver candies. One of my aunts gives us all calendars using pictures of her kids from the previous year and we LOVE it (and I’m totally stealing the idea when I have kids)–we all gather around and look at all the pictures together every year.
      The gifts become a tradition in and of itself, and it takes a lot of the stress off of getting the “perfect” thing while still getting a thoughtful, interesting gift that can be really budget friendly.

      • Ashley

        I love the idea! I didn’t ONLY do this, but I did a lot of DIY. Truffles, fudge, cookie butter, etc.

        • H

          Hey, me too! I usually make homemade chocolates and goodies for our family and friends as well and they LOVE it. I am just a couple of weeks away from having a baby so that is not happening this year, but that is one of my favorite Christmas gifts. I definitely feel you on marrying into a family that puts so much emphasis on gifts — neither my husband or I are big “gift” people and we are taking some flak this year for not having our kids participate in a giant gift exchange with cousins (thankfully our extended family is too large to buy gifts for everyone). But he and I are in it together and it really is taking a lot of stress off me to not have to figure out those extra lists and gifts!

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I totally am the “Book Aunt”. I really am. And I love it.

    • Brievel

      Married into a family where your worth is measured in dollar signs (don’t have a job? You’re worthless. Have an exhausting, difficult job that barely pays anything? You’re pathetic and useless. My poor husband is the only one who isn’t like that – hates money and anything to do with it – his love language is touch. Everyone else doesn’t want to be within three feet of you. Messed him up badly, but anyway…) With my family, between familial bad luck/supernatural persecution, what few items we manage to hand onto are treasure for sentimental reasons. ($15 watch from my sister for my birthday many years ago? I’ll never use another watch. $60 clock with Swarovski crystals from my MIL? Never will use it.)
      My trick is to pump hubby for information on their tastes/when that fails, look at what they give me/us. People tend to gift what they want to receive. (Which is probably why I have a hard time giving gifts, I don’t want things.)

  6. Laraba

    My wonderful husband kindly has taken over most of the gift purchasing for our gigantic family (we have 9 children) and it has revolutionized my life. Because I don’t like buying gifts at all. I’m bad at it, and it is stressful. We also don’t buy gifts for extended family anymore except for our kids’ 3 cousins. It has made the Christmas season much easier. Not that ‘our way’ is the ‘right way’ but we decided most people have plenty of stuff already, and just celebrating one another and Christ at Christmas is a fine thing. (The kids are still ecstatic about gifts, of course.)


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