I admit it: I’ve often left the responsibility with my wife to buy Christmas gifts for the kids and manage our family’s holiday social calendar. It’s no wonder that her stress level increases this time of year. Perhaps that’s why she’s occasionally suggested we take a family vacation during Christmastime–that would be her way of escaping Christmastime stress.
With the added stress of the Christmas season, the American Psychological Association reports men and women cope by eating more unhealthy foods, increasing alcohol use, and spending more time in sedentary activities like sleeping more and watching more TV.
A study conducted for the American Psychological Association revealed 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. As the CEOs of Christmas joy, these women take on these top three holiday stressors: managing finances, time and the social calendar.
Having watched my wife go through the Christmastime stress cycle several times, in recent years I’ve taken the initiative to partner with her in managing the increased obligations and expectations of this season. There are three key areas where 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 reports that men are more likely than women to procrastinate on their 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.
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. If your family has holiday travel plans, take these expenses into account also.
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 their 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 throughout the Christmas season.
Managing stress this time of year sometimes means saying “No” to some of the 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 there are grandchildren 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.
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A version of this post also appeared on LifeZette.com.