Dear Busy Spouse,
Of course you are too busy for your spouse right now. There IS too much going on. On a normal day your kid’s needs, schedules and bedtimes suck every last bit of energy out of you. On a normal day your boss is demanding, your youngest has the flu and the deadline for your work project is looming. But during the holidays….we do all of that and then….There are 17 different holiday parties to attend, find something to wear to and coordinate sitters for. You need to take your kids to see Santa, shop for 87 different people, take beautiful pictures for your Christmas card, decorate your house, take pictures of said decorations and post them on Instagram. You need to buy teacher gifts for every kid’s teacher and even though you contributed to the class gift, you still panic and wonder if you need to send in something extra. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is soooo much to do!
If I don’t say it (as a defender of marriages everywhere), no one will. You are getting it wrong. In fact, our culture will tell you the exact opposite. You will receive 4,780 likes for the beautifully decorated Christmas mantel and 157 texts will roll in once your 200 closest friends and family receive your holiday cards to tell you how stinkin’ cute your family is. You will receive 18 compliments at the neighborhood holiday party about your perfectly baked cookies or your perfectly accessorized holiday outfit. Around every corner, on every inch of social media, you will receive praise, affirmation and accolades about everything you have done and are doing to busy yourself.
Chances are, not one person will comment, care or point out to you that you haven’t talked to your spouse about anything more than schedules in 3 weeks. No one will fuss at you for obsessing over the growing lists of plans at the detriment to you and your family’s’ physical and mental health. No one will tell you that as you let our busy culture suck the life out of you that your marriage, and subsequently your family, will suffer.
Since no one else (maybe except your neglected spouse) will tell you…I will. You are getting it wrong. You are sacrificing a lot of your energy, time and effort on the wrong things.
As a marriage counselor, I hear the devastating stories of the couples that got caught up, got too busy, and made that detrimental transition from romantic partners to co-parents and co-owners of the family business called raising kids and maintaining a home. The consequences of the busy life stares me right in the face every time I walk into work. I get to hear the tears of regret and sadness for how a couple let their busy schedules overtake their lives. I get to see the pain involved when two people look at each other like strangers after years of focusing on everyone and everything else, other than one another. Therefore, I feel obligated and compelled to tell you…you are getting it wrong. You are sacrificing the most important things (relationships, connection, security, love, quality time) for the least important (things, image, superficial chit-chat, praise).
I realize no one is going to post on your Facebook tomorrow, “Great job not going to that super fun Christmas party last night to stay home and snuggle with your spouse and kids.” You are NOT going to receive 300 likes for that well-needed, connected conversation you had with your husband last night after the kids went to bed that had nothing to do with planning. No one is going to affirm you for putting your spouse first. Seriously, no one.
But I will. Every time you make your spouse a priority, everyone wins—you, your marriage and your family. Every time you put things aside to connect with your spouse, you are getting the reward tenfold with your mental, emotional and physical health. And that of your kids, too. So, great job turning off the TV last night and sitting face to face with your spouse to just “catch up.” I’m so proud of you for putting the kids to bed a bit early so that you can have some time with your spouse before you both get too tired. Here are 200 Facebook likes from me for scheduling a sitter for dinner out and ice-skating with your spouse. Here is a thumbs up emoji for taking a bundled-up stroll with your spouse on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Great job!!
Now, to be clear, I’m not sitting on my self-righteous throne of simplicity. These words are coming from one over-planner to another. I have the sickness too. The fear of missing out. The fear of judgment. The fear of not getting invited to next year’s holiday party if I skip it this year. The fear that the world will go on around me and forget all about me if I don’t get all up into every event and happening. Therefore, I have to acknowledge my sickness and apologize to my spouse and my kids. I have to look my husband square in the eyes and apologize for putting everything else before him. Instead of reprimand, I have to show extra compassion to my children when they act like crazy people because I have schlepped them around to 7 different holiday outings that day. I have to own it when it is my fault. I let my over-planning sickness take over what’s best for my marriage and my family.
I’m not writing this because I have it all figured out. I get it wrong all the time. I get lost and caught up in all the busyness too. And then…I walk into my therapy office and hear another heart-breaking story of a couple that lost each other in all the busyness. And BAM!! Just like that, I’m reminded that I’m getting it all wrong at home. And for a few days or weeks, I do better. I slow down. I make time for my husband and slow down our life for connection.
I realize that most other people do not get these heart-breaking reminders. So let me be it. Acknowledge your sickness. Re-evaluate what is most important. Think about what your kids would think is most important to you. If someone asked them “What is most important to your mom?” What would they say? “My Dad.” Would he even make the list? If someone asked them “What is most important to your Dad?” Would they say “My Mom”? Would she even make the list?
What to Do?
1- Start a tradition this holiday season. Do something just for your family. Do something just for you and your spouse. Something that is just the two of you coming together at the holidays to be together.
2- Say “no.” Say “no” this holiday season. Do some things, of course. But not all. Say “no” a whole bunch of times to a whole bunch of things.
3- Apologize. Start with your spouse, “I’m sorry I don’t make time for you. I need to do better. You deserve better.” Next, try your kids, “I’m sorry I keep yelling at you because I’m trying to do so much at once” or “I’m sorry I make our life so hectic by planning too much. I’m asking a lot of you when I do that.”
4- Send the “right” message to your spouse and kids. Say “All of these parties, events, decorating, planning and gift-buying are fun. But….the most important thing to me during the holidays is spending time with you.” Say “We are going to skip some things today, just to be at home and rest. Rest is so important.”
I wish you all the best in slowing down this holiday season!
Your Marriage Counselor
- Over-planning can be a sickness. Acknowledge if you have it, so you can do something about it.
- Pay attention to when you are sacrificing the most important things (relationships, connection, security, love, quality time) for the least important (things, image, superficial chit-chat, praise).
- Busyness is one of the easiest and most subtle ways a marriage can fall apart.
- Pick one action to implement this holiday season: 1) Start a tradition with your spouse; 2) Say “No” to things; 3) Apologize to your spouse and kids for over-planning; 4) Send the “right” message to your spouse and kids.