8 {Theoretically} Simple Strategies to Survive the Holidays


Not to brag, but I do have the smartest and most amazing friends. My friend Karri, for instance, is the founder of the Racine Coalition Against Human Trafficking and works to educate people on how to prevent, identify, and assist victims of human trafficking. When she’s not out saving the world and causing me to question all of the frivilous ways I spend my time, she’s good for a laugh and some snark-filled wisdom. I’ve asked her to share some of that wisdom with the rest of us this season…

Surviving the Holidays
by Karri Hemmig

“I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.”
~ Ellen Griswold, Christmas Vacation

8 (Theoretically) Simple Strategies to Survive the Holidays

Holiday. The sheer mention of the word can invoke both excitement and dread in the bravest of us married folk. It’s understandable why the holidays can test even the strongest unions. It’s taken me, personally, 15 years of marriage, three kids and two very different families to figure it out. And it’s always changing as people marry, move, have families, and change careers.

Everyone has his or her quintessential idea of what a holiday should look like, right? Commonly, it’s molded from our own childhood experiences or those portrayed in media and books if your experience wasn’t as idyllic. To sum it up, we all have our holiday baggage. Mine sometimes stays neatly arranged in a cute, matching carry-on that travels well. Other times it looks and smells like a duffle bag after a week at summer camp. (Metaphorically speaking, of course.) I’d like to think my best years as a holiday guest at family functions are yet to come. Continue reading “8 {Theoretically} Simple Strategies to Survive the Holidays”

Kindness Elves – Something New for Christmas

As I explained, I decided to put my Advent tradition away this year. The original idea for it was to give us a way to focus on making this season meaningful and not so centered on buying more stuff. It didn’t work. I’m letting it go… darn you, Frozen, for getting that song stuck in my head every time I use a perfectly legitimate phrase…

Kindness Elves - Something New for Christmas #staymarried

This year, we are trying something new: Kindness Elves. I learned about it from Anna over at Imagination Tree last year. I followed along as her little elves left notes for her children with ideas for different ways they could be kind and generous to others. Are you kidding me? This is right up my alley! All I want is for my children to be kind, generous, and compassionate. The world is full of Me Monsters, and I want our family to be different. There was something about the Elf on the Shelf that I couldn’t get on board with, but this, these darling little friends, this is just what I wanted!

They appeared with a knock on the door Continue reading “Kindness Elves – Something New for Christmas”

Opting Out of the Rat Race of Christmas

Opting Out of the Rat Race of Christmas - #staymarriedIt’s an interesting time of year, isn’t it? Christmastime, I mean. I know the politically correct term is “Holiday Season,” but if we’re truthful about the season itself here in America, it is really the “redecorate your home, bribe your children for the perfect family photo, attend themed parties, hurry up and don’t miss out on the ‘traditions,’ and buy lots of things” season. Or at least it can be.

I don’t mean to Bah-Humbug what is going on in the world. I love this time of year. Decorating and celebrating and participating in all of the festivities means so much to me. Seeing the wonder of it all through my children’s eyes is delightful. This year, however, I’ve found myself entering in with a bit of trepidation. I want to participate in the joy, but I do not want to participate in the race. I want to be a part of the loveliness, but I do not want to be a part of the competition for loveliness. I want to enjoy this time with my family, but I don’t want to get caught up in looking like I’m enjoying it so I can document our “joy” on social media. So, I’m ditching some of my very own traditions. Continue reading “Opting Out of the Rat Race of Christmas”

Gratitude is the Antidote

GratitudeIs The Antidote - #staymarriedI’m working on making the most of my time. I’m working on saying no to good things so I can say yes to great things. I’m working on keeping my eyes open to commercialism and the comparison trap so that I can see clearly and help make better decisions for our family. I’m working on being more grateful. So, this year, I said “No” to buying new costumes for the kids for Halloween.

No New Costumes!

Now, before you gasp in horror at the dismal holiday my children must have had, sitting in a dark living room watching the kids in fun costumes parade around our neighborhood, remember that I don’t hate my kids. I love my kids! I love them like crazy! I just didn’t want to make a big fuss over Halloween this year.

Something struck me about how much time and energy I usually pour over their costumes and decorations and making everything the best ever. I usually drive to four different places to find the perfect something, recruit a friend or two to help me make the best whatever-the-heck, and I love every second of it. I usually start planning and throwing out ideas to Tony about what our whole family will be for Halloween in May. I mean, most times I wouldn’t be surprised if Pinterest showed up at my door to interview me on how I got it all done. But, not this year. Continue reading “Gratitude is the Antidote”

Make Your Own Holiday

Make Your Own Holiday - #staymarriedIt wasn’t that long ago that I shared with you all one of the lessons I am learning and re-learning this season: Sometimes you have to say “no” to good things so you can say “yes” to great things. That lesson has involved not only saying “no” but also asking for help and truly allowing other people to help me. Is that as hard for any of you as it is for me?

Difficult as it may be, I am working on it. One thing that makes it a bit easier to actually ask is when you are met with an enthusiastic, “Anything you need!” In this case it came from my new friend Maggie Reyes of Modern Married. Maggie is a life coach, blogger, and hopeless romantic. Though we have never met face-to-face, I adore this woman and consider her a great partner in spreading the hope and joy found in making marriage work.

Today she shares some insight on enjoying the holidays as we navigate that separation from the traditions we grew up with and the new traditions we can create within our own marriage. Here she is…

– – –

Dear #staymarried Readers,

Michelle asked me to write something about the importance of creating traditions in your marriage. When she did, she had no idea that The Hubs and I had actually created our own Holiday… sort of.

Here is my story. It has a happy ending, I promise…

Maggie Reyes and Hubs on #staymarriedI grew up with a single mom. We usually spent holidays at somebody else’s house. Over the years we developed our own holiday traditions and by the time I was in my thirties, one of my favorite holiday traditions was a huge Thanksgiving dinner we would celebrate at my BFF’s parents’ house.

I was in charge of the décor and general “ambiance.” My friends tell me I have a gift for taking a space and making it feel welcoming or festive or, when we used to host a book club at our church, making it a “sacred space.”

I LOVED putting together that night with my BFF and her mom and assorted family members. It was a mix of a pot luck, party, and family reunion rolled into one.

I was so excited when I met The Hubs because I couldn’t wait for him to experience it. Except he always spent Thanksgiving with his cousins. Family tradition.

One of the first and biggest disagreements we ever had was about where and how to spend Thanksgiving.

We came to an impasse. Suddenly my excitement just wasn’t the same. I had a long talk with my BFF and she said, “Your family is expanding, embrace it. Traditions evolve. Go to his cousins.”

I love his cousins. They are the dearest, most loving people. But, I was really sad. Although an exciting part of my life was beginning, I had a very hard time saying goodbye to that chapter of my life and those Thanksgiving memories.

Growing up with a single mom, over the years I learned to assemble my family of friends. It felt so comforting to have that Thanksgiving celebration that I was a part of, which I helped create. Suddenly, with the arrival of the love of my life, I wasn’t just saying goodbye to that one night a year, I was saying goodbye to a part of myself.

This happened years before I had any life coach training. I did not handle it elegantly at first. I wanted to “force” my future hubby to “want” to do something. Ever try that? It never works.

During that time, the hubby came up with names for us. He declared me “the unstoppable force.” He said the only thing that could match an unstoppable force was “the immovable wall.” AKA: him. He wasn’t mad that I wanted to keep my self-created tradition. He was mad that I was trying to force him to like something just because I liked it.

I learned one of the greatest lessons of my marriage during that that first Thanksgiving. I learned I could share from my heart whatever I was going through and my hubby would listen, but never could I ever force him to do something just because. (Ssshhh, please don’t tell my mother-in-law! She thinks I have a little sway, but truly, I have accepted that the hubby only does things he wants to do. And sometimes he wants to do things because they make me smile or happy or excited. But not always. And that’s ok.)

After some emotional wrangling, I realized I would have to start fresh. I am a very creative person. I believe in re-defining marriage at every opportunity– making it work for me and for my hubby. I believe in healing and choices and making new decisions when the old ones don’t feel good anymore.

And this, my friends, is how the “New Year’s Day Outback Extravaganza” came to be.Make Your Own Holiday - #staymarried

I called my best friend and said, “We need a new holiday.” Now my best friend has known me since 2nd grade and I have called her with all kinds of crazy ideas my whole life, so when I called her and said we needed to make up a new holiday, let’s just say: she wasn’t shocked.

We needed something that would honor her parents (who have also known me since 2nd grade) and yet be manageable for everyone’s completely crazy yet totally lovable holiday schedules.

We also needed a new tradition. Something the hubby and I created together (with a little help from the BFF of course). I didn’t realize it at the time, because I was so sad that I felt like a part of me was dying, but a new and beautiful part of me was also being born. The Wife part. And this new woman needed new traditions. I realize now that a family is created one day at a time.

We choose to put each other first. We choose to make our relationship a priority. We choose each other every day. Over and over again. Now I have come to believe it’s so important to create new traditions and new memories with your spouse because those traditions are a symbol of the promise, “I will be there for you. I will create new memories with you. I will leave behind old ways of doing things to find new ways of doing things together.”

Traditions may look like turkey and football, but they are really trust and love in disguise.

Make Your Own Holiday - #staymarried

Which brings me back to how we made our own holiday. After some brainstorming, we figured out that Thanksgiving and Christmas were just too complicated. New Year’s Day, however, was completely virgin territory. No one did anything on New Year’s Day, which meant everyone was available.

The next step was figuring out what to do. Everyone is tired of cooking (and cleaning!) by the time we get to New Year’s so it had to be out. Somewhere nice. (But not too nice, because we all just bought Christmas presents, right?) So my beautiful BFF started calling restaurants to find out who is open on New Year’s Day. As it turns out, Outback Steakhouse is both open and delicious on January 1st.

Every year since my wedding, a big group of us gets together and goes to Outback Steakhouse. We exchange Christmas presents and laugh and the kids play and we tell each other all our holiday stories and make new memories.

I know the holiday season can put extra stress on relationships for so many reasons – family, presents, parties – all the things we love can also cause us stress if we don’t learn to manage them and make them work for our individual and specific situation.

So you may not need to make a new holiday (though if you do, I totally want to know! Come visit me on Facebook and tell me all about it!) but take a moment and take a deep breath, maybe even put a hand on your heart and ask yourself, what is worrying me the most about the holiday season? And see if you can call your honey or your BFF and do something about it.

How have your traditions changed since you got married? Any tips to share to make the holidays more peaceful? Please share in the comments.

Maggie-Reyes on #staymarriedMaggie Reyes is a Life Coach, Writer + the Founder of ModernMarried.com. Her romantic-yet-practical approach to wedded bliss has been featured on Project Happily Ever After, Daybreak USA, Cristina XMRadio, The Happy Wives Club and now the #StayMarried Blog. Woo-hoo! When she’s not writing, working or creating pins for her fabulous Facebook Community, you can find her cuddling with her hubby, reading a romance novel or embracing how the words “over-achiever” and “TV Junkie” can still go in the same sentence, to describe the same person. Learn how to love like a newlywed no matter how long you have been married at www.ModernMarried.com.


The #staymarried blog was created to offer hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married.

If you’re NEW HERE, check out our About Page and read a little more about my own background on our first post.

Thank you for reading, sharing, and being a part of this #staymarried community!

~ Michelle

8 (Theoretically) Simple Strategies to Survive The Holidays

On this side of being a family of five, it’s hard to imagine what life will be like when the kids are all old enough to be out of diapers, write their own Christmas lists, and express their opinions about how we spend the season. Thankfully, I have a few friends who are further down the road than we are. Keith and Karri are a couple of those friends.

We met Keith and Karri during our time living in Wisconsin. They were transplants like we were, enjoyed cooking and eating good food, and were always up for a game night. It’s no wonder we all bonded so seamlessly. I was catching up with her recently, wondering how I will ever get from this frazzled mother of three littles to where she is, a mother of three “big kids,” and still have my brain intact, especially when it comes to either getting through or enjoying this most glorious time of the year. She had some great and practical insight, and since she is a writer herself, I asked her if she’d be willing to share with all of you.

So, now, I’m delighted to introduce you all to my friend Karri, who’s got a pretty good handle on this “holidays with family” thing…

Surviving the Holidays

“I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.”
~ Ellen Griswold, Christmas Vacation

8 (Theoretically) Simple Strategies to Survive the Holidays

Holiday. The sheer mention of the word can invoke both excitement and dread in the bravest of us married folk. It’s understandable why the holidays can test even the strongest unions. It’s taken me, personally, 15 years of marriage, three kids and two very different families to figure it out. And it’s always changing as people marry, move, have families, and change careers.

Everyone has his or her quintessential idea of what a holiday should look like, right? Commonly, it’s molded from our own childhood experiences or those portrayed in media and books if your experience wasn’t as idyllic. To sum it up, we all have our holiday baggage. Mine sometimes stays neatly arranged in a cute, matching carry-on that travels well. Other times it looks and smells like a duffle bag after a week at summer camp. (Metaphorically speaking, of course.) I’d like to think my best years as a holiday guest at family functions are yet to come. With three children, a lot of time has been spent tending to their needs. I’ve only been half-present in most conversations as I was busy making sure the toddler didn’t fall down the very steep, very child-unfriendly staircase.

When it comes to spending time with the “other” family during the holidays, a 2012 survey by the online relationship site, theicebreak.com, reveals that women were far more likely than men to specify they had negative feelings, including dread and nervousness. Men, however, were more likely to specify that they were looking forward to the experience. Think about your own upcoming holidays – which category do you fall into: fun family flick or holiday disaster movie? The best-loved holiday movies are always full of family drama, dysfunctional humor, great suffering or loss, and redemption. It’s the holidays that are supposed to remind us how grateful we should be for the other 352 mundane days of the year. It’s a perfect moment in time in which we can reflect upon the many blessings in our life. Or, well, something like that.

Do we all have fonder memories than the realities that occurred? The reason you might have remembered a perfect Christmas could be simply the fact that you were a child. You were blissfully unaware of your father’s lack of sleep because the 40-year old mattress he was forced to sleep on hurt his back or your mother’s daily battle in the kitchen over recipes with Grandma. Or that your uncle kept disappearing randomly for 10 minutes and would come back in a much better mood for unknown reasons. No, you remember the holiday cartoons, presents, family togetherness, board games with cousins, and heaps of sugary delights on every clear surface. It was fast-paced and fun– and somehow always seemed to come together so effortlessly.

We’ve all heard how to “affair-proof” our marriages and now it’s time to “holiday-proof” them as well. Here are our eight strategies for getting through that most wonderful time of the year.


8 (Theoretically) Simple Strategies to Survive The Holidays

8. Nominate the Spokesman

8 (Theoretically) Simple Ways To Survive The HolidaysThis one is simple – if you are visiting your parents, you represent the family and if you are visiting the in-laws, your spouse gets that job. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t making decisions together or completely avoiding deep conversations with your in-laws. It’s simply a good rule of thumb, in most cases, because you are the expert in communicating well with your family (after all, you’ve had years of practice). And it takes the pressure off of your spouse to play bad cop. Just don’t weirdly announce to the room that all decisions for the next four days will be run through you. This strategy should be invisible to everyone but your spouse.

7. Pre-Select Your Vice

Yes, you heard me correctly. Have a vice – something that is comforting, familiar or stress relieving – accessible no matter where you are. Music calms you down? Pack an iPod (or a Zune for the five of you that bought one) and headphones to listen to at night while in bed. Running boosts your mood? Don’t forget your running shoes. Just keep it classy and legal, people.

My husband’s vice was skillfully done. Pie-making runs in his family’s blood and even the crust is taken seriously. His dad was an excellent pie-maker and could make a mean butternut squash pie. His family is not of the holiday drinking variety and Keith always needed to bring a flask of bourbon in order to make our traditional bourbon pecan pie. He always seems to have at least one measure too much of bourbon for the recipe in his flask and a pie-making cocktail is born. Sometimes, it’s the little things. For Keith, it’s one holiday cocktail.

I used to think my vice was a good book or unread magazine. Turns out, there is never any time or ability for me to read when visiting family because we are too busy catching up and playing games (or it’s late and I’m exhausted). It started to leave me annoyed and frustrated at the end of each trip, so I don’t even pack a book anymore. If I need some downtime or a moment to myself – I can always head to bed early and curl up with a Netflix show on my Kindle before passing out from holiday exhaustion (fun and exhausting for us introverts). I once got through a whole season of Gilmore Girls in four days. That’s a lot of Lorelai.

6. Establish A Game Plan on Traditions

We ran into this problem quickly after having children. My Catholic family did Santa and Keith’s Protestant family did not. Together, we decided to carry on the Santa tradition with our own children but because our families live so far away, many of our holidays now involve long distance travel. It’s hard to establish traditions when you are usually staying in someone else’s home. Figure out what traditions are important to both of you and find a way to honor them no matter where you choose to spend it. Santa learned to leave our stockings early on the morning of the road trip. Candies and toys to enjoy on the mundane 8-hour road trip were brilliant on his part. Thanks, Santa!

Also make peace with the traditions you can’t enjoy this year and ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Embrace the possibilities for new traditions and memories that may not have been planned. And if you are the one hosting, don’t forget to make others feel comfortable to honor their traditions in your home as well. I like to encourage guests to contribute to the meal by bringing a recipe that was traditional on their own holiday tables.

5. Use Caution When Discussing Religion and Politics

This one is hard for me. I love debating both religion and politics but quickly learned that not everyone can. Or should. Or wants to. Debate is an art – as the goal is not to insult or judge your opponent but rather engage in healthy dialogue while lobbying thoughts and ideas back and forth, while both parties are working together to mold them.

Or this is how I envisioned it in my head and what I told myself. And it’s harder than you think, even with the best intentions. I will dip my toe in the pond, given the opening, though I’ve learned to harness my thoughts and opinions before the discussion becomes negative. But mostly, we just shut our mouths and everyone just stays clear of the conversation. It’s taken me years to accept this (and I still have a hard time and have actually caused blood by literally biting my tongue) – but it works and keeps holidays focused on positive time together.

4. Be a Good Guest (and Host)

No matter what the emotional temperature may be in your holiday that year, a helpful guest is always appreciated. It’s the little things that a hostess will notice: helping with meals, offering to run a small errand or keeping coats, shoes, phones and purses neatly out of the way. With my family, it’s paying extra attention to the kitchen’s cleanliness and making sure the dozen pairs of shoes stay in the basement where they belong. Another idea is bringing a small token of gratitude when you arrive. The traditional Danish pastry famous from Racine, Wisconsin is a welcomed sight in homes across Ohio. That, and a large bottle of wine or fresh flowers and holiday greens makes most people happy to see us… at least initially.

As a hostess, I try to make sure each guest has a clean, soft place to crash. Create space for their suitcases and find out ahead of time if there are any special grocery requests or food allergies and aversions. A new, soft pillow can make all of the difference and is not expensive (READ: No one wants to sleep on your flat, makeup stained, college dorm-era pillow). We also always try to have basic over-the-counter medications stocked – Benadryl, Ibuprofen, antacid tablets, eye drops and throat lozenges come in handy and are common requests. Trust me, we run an unofficial Bed & Breakfast for invited guests in the summer months. I have become a most proficient hostess.

3. Separation Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Depending on the length of the visit, plan a few periods of time to give your hosts, or your house guests, time away from you and your family. Even the best quality family time can only be enhanced with mini-breaks. Thinking that most people wouldn’t want a break from your delightful family? This tip is for especially for you. Escape to the grocery store and pick up some treats for everyone, take the kids to the park for a few hours and let your mother catch up on tasks. My delightful family is a handful. One year, after a fun but lengthy visit, I felt like the room erupted in silent applause when Keith and I announced we were taking the children out to dinner…. alone.

Admit it, you’re among friends here. You wouldn’t mind the break, either.

2. Establish and Maintain Healthy Boundaries

We always wanted to maximize our time spent with family since we don’t see them very often and would arrive home on the very last day possible. Sunday night, our family would be worn out from the full day’s drive and facing early morning wake up times for school and work (and always without a single piece of bread in the house for packing lunches). It was a hard start to the week and later, after my son was diagnosed with Autism, it became a necessary healthy family transition for us to always have a full day at home after traveling or hosting during the holiday to get our sh*t together. We were a hot mess. Whatever helps your marriage function properly are the things to seriously discuss when thinking of your needs. And it’s always disappointing to others when you make adjustments in expectations, but stick to it. It’s worth the effort in the long haul to walk away from your time together with your wits about you. Trust me, wits are important.

1. Suck It Up

You said ‘I Do’ and your spot on the family tree was forever etched. If you are newly married, they may not feel like family yet but it will come, trust me. You may still find them funny, irritating, and loud in twenty years but they’ll be YOUR funny, irritating, and loud family. The history between you may still be developing, or maybe old hurts keep resurfacing and you go into each visit with anxiety and stress. Out of respect for your spouse, respect his family at the very least. Make it the number one goal above all else.  Modeling this behavior for children is also important, as it gives them a blueprint for navigating their own adult holiday experiences. Let someone else provide their dysfunctional experience.

Trying to go into each holiday with as little baggage, emotional and actual, and expectation as possible is a good start. Whatever the issues may be, you owe it to yourself and to your spouse to try hard to make the most of it and not become a stumbling block to happy memories for everyone. It’s a day/weekend/week. Not forever.

And if nothing else helps, there’s always next Christmas and a whole bottle of bourbon waiting at home.

“As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations, compounded by December’s bad weather, it is good to be reminded that there are people in our lives who are worth this aggravation, and people to whom we are worth the same.”
~ Donald E. Westlake

Karri Hemmig Family - #staymarried guest postKarri is a displaced southerner and freelance writer living in Wisconsin in a very old, very drafty house with her husband Keith and three children. With a background in nonprofit marketing and communications, she currently works with several local organizations, co-leads a Dining For Women chapter and enjoys historical research and writing on architecture. You can find Karri on Twitter as @SimplySpent.

New to #staymarried? Welcome! Check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background.

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Michelle

New Year, Better Marriage

New Year, Better Marriage, a @staymarried blogNew Year’s Resolutions can be kind of a joke, right? I mean, is anyone NOT going back to the gym this month? Will anyone still be there in March? Research has shown that, after six months, fewer than half the people who actually make New Year’s resolutions have stuck with them, and, after a year, that number declines to around ten percent. Seems smarter not to make any at all, which is where I usually land, wallowing in cynicism. But not this year.

See, our friend Kevin made a New Year’s Resolution last year, and he managed to keep it. When I first heard about what he wanted to do, I felt inspired. And, just as if it had been my own resolution, it didn’t take me too long to forget all about it. Until a few weeks ago, when I heard he’d been successful.

Kevin’s resolution for 2012 was to run 500 miles for the year. Now, Kevin would not consider himself an athlete. He’s run races before, but never consistently run for fitness, and that’s what he wanted to change. Rather than writing down the usual, “Run more in 2012,” Kevin made his resolution measurable: “Run 500 miles in 2012.” He posted it on Facebook and started keeping track of how far he ran each time he went out and began posting that, too. Brilliant! Then, on December 7th 2012, he ran his last three mile stretch with his wife and a group of friends cheering him on as he finished! I would have loved to have been there!

I’m inspired by Kevin because he not only figured out something to shoot for, he realized he needed it to be measurable and he needed a system and support to help him reach his goal. I’m a systems person. I prefer data to “ guesstimates.” I like to see step by step instructions. Even though I’m a daydreamer, my visions always have a practical start and end. I prefer the functions in Excel way more than those in Photoshop. Practical to a fault, my least favorite game is “What would you do if you won a kagillion dollars?” It just doesn’t make sense to me. Am I going to win a kagillion dollars, or not? No? Then why are we talking about this?

So, when I heard what Kevin did, it struck a chord with my analytical cravings. He did it because he wasn’t lofty about it. He did it because he had a plan and he had steps he could measure. I think I want to do the same thing with my marriage this year, and I’m hoping many of you will consider doing so, too, and we can be for each other like the team Kevin had cheering him on.

Whether your marriage is hanging on by a string or this was the year you hit your stride, we can all do something to make our marriages better. Rather than focusing only on your individual resolutions about getting in better shape or spending less frivolously, we hope you’ll join us in making some resolutions for a better marriage, and like Kevin, make them measurable. This way we’ll know for sure if we are on track.

Take a look at our list, choose three or more, and kick off the coming year with a bang!

New Year, Better Marriage - #staymarried

While it’s true that most people who make resolutions fail at keeping them, there is hope. Research has reported that there are some simple strategies can help us stick with our New Year’s resolutions, such as: setting specific goals, sharing our resolutions with others, and focusing on the benefits of achieving the resolution.

What do you think? Feel free to modify anything on our list to suit yourselves more personally. Tony and I are still talking about which of these we’ll begin working on this year so that we don’t just #staymarried, but have a better marriage this year.

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle

Advent, Turkey Trot, & Tacky Santa – How Traditions Help You #StayMarried

I love this time of year! No matter where we’ve lived or what the crazy weather is doing, going for a drive and catching glimpses of colorful lights and snowy displays puts me in a good mood. Some of our neighbors were even outside putting up their lights on Thanksgiving day! When we left the house the next day, Claire shouted from the back seat, “LOOK! A CHRISTMAS HOUSE!!” She’s into the season. We like that about her. We wanted that for her.

Though we were already married and had celebrated Christmas together a few times, it was our first Christmas as parents that really got us talking and thinking about traditions. Approaching Claire’s first Christmas, we shared stories with each other about what Christmas was like for us as kids. Tony remembered looking through the Toys R Us catalog and folding pages and circling all of the things he wanted. I remembered the year I got the red cable-knit sweater I’d been daydreaming of. We discovered that we had very different childhoods and we wondered together what Claire, and now Nora, would remember about the holidays.

So, Tony and I talked some more and dreamed up what we would want Christmas to look like for our family as our girls grow up. We want them to know Jesus. We want them to know why He came. We want to spend the season as a family. We needed our own traditions. We came up with our own plan to reflect and rejoice together in our little home. It was during Claire’s first Christmas that we started our Advent tradition.


In the traditional church calendar, Advent is the season to reflect and prepare our hearts for the coming King. Since I didn’t grow up celebrating Advent, or really anything traditional, I read what I could find about it and came across the Advent Wreath. I loved the idea, but didn’t care so much for the way it looked and couldn’t imagine having this green wreath with pink and purple candles sitting on a table in my home. Since we were really making our own traditions, we designed our own Advent Wreath.

Now, each Sunday evening leading up to Christmas, we’ve incorporated our new tradition into our usual after dinner routine. We light a candle, share a quick reading, and Tony plays some Christmas music on the guitar and piano. Now that Claire is nearly three, we are starting to do little crafts and projects, too! Last week we let the girls decorate the Christmas tree to help celebrate the first day of Advent.

We know we’re not the only family making our own traditions and its been fun to see what some of our friends have come up with, too.

The Turkey Trot

Our friends Jenn and Stephen have their own tradition around the holidays. They have made it a goal to maintain an active lifestyle. Though Stephen is more of a natural athlete, Jenn takes comfort that their goal isn’t to win any races or be the best at any one thing, but just to engage in things that will keep them healthy and active. While Jenn comes from a large family with many of their own holiday traditions, Jenn and Stephen have come up with something on their own – the Turkey Trot.

Each year on Thanksgiving morning, they participate in a 5K benefitting the Ballard Food Bank. This was their third year participating, and they both think it’s one of their favorite Thanksgiving weekend traditions– a fun way for them to get some exercise in before enjoying Thanksgiving dinner.

Jenn shared with me that, at first, she didn’t think she had any room for any new traditions with the many that she already shared with her family. But three years into her marriage with Stephen, she is so glad they are building something of their own, resulting in some of their favorite and most special memories.

Tacky Santa

We met Jason and Erica when we were living in Wisconsin. Their tradition really originated on Jason’s side of the family. This couple has a shared love of Christmas– they’re the kind of people who start listening to Christmas music in early November and have the decorations up before Thanksgiving. Erica knew from the day she married Jason that he treasured traditions, but little did she know what that would mean for her around their shared favorite holiday.

During their first Christmas together in their new home, Jason announced that he had the perfect outdoor Christmas decoration. Erica was excited at first– this was right up her alley! About 30 minutes later, though, he walked into their home with the tackiest lawn decoration she had ever seen. It was Santa.

The story of this Santa dates back to when Jason’s dad was just 14 years old. He acquired this 4 ½ ft plastic Santa from a local retailer. Ever since that day, Santa has stood in the yard outside of every home his dad has lived. A few years later, Jason’s grandfather came home with an identical Santa. As if one wasn’t enough, now there were two!

Alas, Santa #2 came to live outside of Jason and Erica’s house. Erica wasn’t exactly thrilled, but when she saw the excitement in Jason’s eyes over putting the illustrious Santa in his very own front yard, Erica just knew she couldn’t take that away from him. She saw a little boy filled with Christmas joy. How could she say no and deny him this special tradition? Even though Santa is the tackiest thing she had ever seen, she told Jason to go ahead and put it up and he has been in their yard every Christmas since. Fast forward to the present, and now their 7-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter adore Santa, too. When he comes out of storage every year, their eyes light up– just like Jason’s.

Santa just gets tackier– he’s held together with tape and fiber glass patches– and Erica is sure that passersby must wonder why they don’t spring for a new Santa. But Erica doesn’t see the tacky anymore. She knows that when Jason sees Santa, he is fondly recalling Christmases of years gone by, and now, when Erica sees Santa, she sees love for her husband, understanding, and new memories being made every year.

Traditions Create Shared Meaning

In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman shares that a successful, long-lasting marriage is not just about avoiding conflict and living peacefully together. His research shows that there is a next level. His Principle #7 is: Create Shared Meaning. It was reinforced for Tony and I as we read this book that each family has its own culture. It’s like a micro-culture all on its own, with customs and rituals, language and symbols, within the larger culture of its society. This is what he says…

“Developing a culture doesn’t mean a couple sees eye to eye on every aspect of their life’s philosophy. Instead there is a meshing. They find a way of honoring each other’s dreams even if they don’t always share them. The culture that they develop together incorporates both of their dreams. And it is flexible enough to change as husband and wife grow and develop. When a marriage has this shared sense of meaning, conflict is much less intense and perpetual problems are unlikely to lead to gridlock.”

Developing your own traditions around holidays is just one way to create this “Shared Meaning.” Tony and I, and our friends above, really look forward to our traditions each year. Creating our own has been an adventure, something that has brought us closer together, and really made us feel like a family. But, I realize it’s not always that easy.

Disappointing Your Families

If you and your spouse are very close with your own parents and families of origin, creating your own new traditions can be tricky. Often times, well-meaning in-laws can feel like they are getting snuffed out. They probably hoped to gain a son or daughter when you two got married- an extra family member to share in the yearly Anderson Family Christmas Eve Cookie Baking Contest Sleepover. Instead, their precious daughter is now spending less time with them as she is split between her own family, her husband’s family, and an attempt at spending time with just her husband and kids. This is where most of the stress and tension around the holidays comes from– someone trying and failing to please someone else, at the detriment of themselves.

I don’t exactly know how to help you navigate that, but I can tell you this: as a married couple, your priority needs to be each other. Your marriage will not thrive if any one person (or parent, or grandparent) takes priority over your spouse. Again, I know this is not easy, but it is vital. Your spouse needs to know beyond a doubt that they come first, that they are most important. It can be sad and hard for you to give up or compromise some of the traditions you’ve grown up with. At first, it may not feel quite like the holiday you’ve always known and loved without heading to Grandma’s and pretending you don’t know it’s Uncle Lewis in that Santa suit. This, again, is why it is so important to communicate with each other about what you really love about your own families, to practice a little give and take, and to come up with your own traditions along the way.

It’s Not Too Late To Start Your Own

Maybe you’ve been married awhile and had some traditions that you’ve let fall by the wayside over the years. Pick them back up this season! Maybe you’ve only ever relied on your parents’ traditions and haven’t really made any of your own yet. Talk with each other this week about your traditions, about the things you look forward to. Is there something you could add or change to really make this season even more special for yourselves this year and the years to come? We would love to hear from you! What are some of the things that you’ve made traditions out of, the things you’ll always look back on fondly? We hope there is warmth in your homes this holiday season as you build shared memories, shared meaning. Be merry and #staymarried!


P.S. If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~ Michelle