So part of me occasionally turns Grinchy during the holidays. Where previously I bounded through gift lists and décor and gifts for teachers, now my heart’s an empty hole! And my husband, if I’m not careful, quickly becomes my roast beast. Wondering how to stop fighting over the holidays—and why it happens in the first place?
3 Reasons we clash during the holidays & how to stop fighting
Reason 1: Accidental death by Christmas stress.
Before your heart shrinks two sizes too small, you’re clearly not alone. All the prep for the holiday–budgets, gifts lists, matching pajamas, cookies, packing—can swell beyond the reasons we’re doing this in the first place … By golly Baby Jesus, I know You’re in all this somewhere.
Unfortunately, our nearest, most secure, or already-tense relationships (read: marriages) often double as shock-absorbers for our stress, resentment, and exhaustion.
Solution 1: Take time to evaluate.
Sometimes we’re running off toward a lesser goal—perfect appetizers, being “that house” with the dazzling lights display; Christmas cards—at the expense of more important goals. Like peace and joy in our homes.
We sense the truth that where our treasure is, there our hearts will also be (Matthew 6:21). That the holes in our lives are never filled by more stuff, food, activity, or accomplishments.
- What you need to do, versus what others expect you to do. (Or you imagine they do.)
- What you’re doing to obtain the perfect Christmas in your head, now sabotaged by your insanity. Will your kids wander from God if you don’t do an Advent calendar this year? Doubt it.
- What you can delegate and to whom. Do you really need to make the whole feast yourself?
- What you can put off. Does that work project have to be turned in before your trip?
- What’s most meaningful. Could you appreciate a person by spending time with them—rather than shopping for a gift they don’t need?
I like how Paul evaluates priorities: “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Often in my attempts to be everywhere and everything to everyone, I’m not “all there” with anyone. Being present with God or my husband or my kids is about not being somewhere else.
So don’t just evaluate. Stop fighting by taking time to decorate inside—and I’m not talking twisting garland around the stair rail. Create space to worship God in your heart: The real goal of Christmas, right (1 Corinthians 10:31)?
Present your concerns, schedule, and family members to Him. What are the good works He’s prepared for you to do (Ephesians 2:10)—no more, no less?
Solution 2: Stop arguing—by simplifying.
One way to stop fighting from stress is to (duh) eliminate unnecessary stress: activities, demands, gifts, decorations, focus.
What needs your “no” right now? How can you ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your Christmas, prizing, instead, God’s priorities for your home? We can train our minds and hearts away from our constant appetites and the idea that more = happiness, comfort, convenience.
Especially in this season, we can make intentional decisions away from temporary excess—and toward a singular heart with eternal purpose: Jesus, how can I honor You? What’s most important for You to do in my family this Christmas?
Reason 2: A lot of time together.
All this “quality time” together can mean conflict because that’s what happens when differing values collide. We’re unique people with, let’s face it, less-than-altruistic desires. Even our good desires are often laced with agendas: If my bathrooms aren’t clean when Mom gets here, I’ll feel judged, rejected, and not enough.
As James 4:1 puts it, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”
When we’re together more, our personal goals are thwarted more. Obviously, those conflicts can be unspoken or overt, tangible or intangible, quiet or not-so-much.
Solution 1: Stop arguing by stoking fires of undeserved kindness.
The ways we show forgiveness, peace, and justice in our marriages are a show-and-tell about what God did for us through Jesus.
So your response to your spouse for not getting the Christmas cards you needed to take to work or forgetting three grocery-list items? Those are opportunities to honor God and grow more like Him. (How would He have me respond to my spouse? Will I make my desires, goals, “rights,” and agendas serve His will above mine? Will I obey God and trust Him?)
Conflict allows us to serve each other, and even to grow as it gives us new ways of looking at life: She was right. I enjoy Christmas more when we don’t stay the whole day at Dad’s.
Does that mean conflict could actually improve our relationships? That’s exactly what I’m saying.
Solution 2: Remember the flip side.
What’s the flip side of the aspects of your spouse’s personality that are such crazy-makers at the moment?
Stop arguing by thanking your spouse out loud for the “strength” side of what you may see as a weakness. For the ways they’re not like you.
My husband’s introversion or attention to detail, for example, slow me down in the best ways and help me focus on what matters. They’re not just a constant abrasion to my plans. They fortify our home and our holidays in ways rich and holistic, contributing to a great “team us.”
So repeat after me: My spouse is not my enemy.
Reason 3: You can’t stop arguing when expectations loom taller than your tree.
If stress and proximity weren’t enough, let’s mix in expectations, shall we? And not just ours—everyone else’s.
I haven’t seen my mother in two years, and you chose to wear a sweater that looks like someone threw up Christmas.
Please do not mention politics, vaccines, or anyone who has politics or vaccines.
Now everyone, when we walk in the door, put down your phones and look at real people. Or else.
My grandma acts like if we don’t come, we don’t really love her.
Solution 1: Examine your expectations.
Peter Scazzero writes in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, that for expectations to be healthy, they need to be: conscious (you’re actually aware of it), realistic, spoken, and agreed upon.
You can home in on what your real desires are with questions like these from David Powlison. Follow each up with “Why?”:
- What do I want?
- What do I crave, long for, wish, seek?
- Whose desires do I obey?
- What do I fear?
- What do I feel like doing?
Once you and your spouse’s expectations are conscious, it’s time to evaluate together whether those are realistic, wise, loving expectations—and whether you both prize the same goals. (What would be healthier ones, not driven by, say, fear, gluttony, manipulation, or image-management?)
Solution 2: Take 100% responsibility for your contribution.
Know what helps my husband and I stop fighting much more quickly? First admitting to each other the “log” in our own eyes.
This comes from Matthew 7:5: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” So—It was rude of me to say that with fewer decorations, we might as well flush Christmas down the toilet. Maybe the house does look a little like Buddy the Elf struck.
Healthy conflict resolution starts with taking 100% responsibility for our contribution—even if we think our contribution is only 5% of the problem. Here’s a tip I heard from author Gary Thomas: We always underestimate the impact our sin has on other people.
Often, our expectations swell from something we want into something we must have. We’re willing to pass judgment, sacrifice those we love, and mete out punishment to achieve that desire (hello, silent treatment).
We’re not trusting God to meet those desires. They’ve become demands and taken control.
So stop fighting by admitting specifically what you did, as well as your attitude. And don’t forget to acknowledge hurt you’ve caused. You’re doing your fair share with the kids. I undermined your motherhood with that comment about you not attending the choir concert.
Your Holidays are More Than This
The holidays, in the end, are about thankfulness for what is good in our lives. Mainly, a God who landed in our real-life mess to reconcile the distance between us.
So amidst the bustle and glitz, carve out the time to find the Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace in the middle of your marriage. Recover the closeness, connection, and God-honoring holidays worth celebrating. Once your inner Grinch gets over it, he’ll thank you.
Copyright © 2021 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House), empowers parents to creatively engage kids in vibrant spirituality. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.