Tis the season at the Casa Del Sank-A-Ray, crispness is in the air these days, both inside and out which can only mean that the holiday season is upon us.
For those of you who have been married for a while you know the holiday season can bring a cold front that has nothing to do with the weather, it’s a stress front, specifically spousal stress. I noticed it arrived in our house few nights ago when Mrs S made the following comment:
“Thanksgiving already? I have a lot to do and no time to do it.”
Hmmm, the holidays had snuck up me too, usually I’d have heard comments like that earlier in November. Weird year I guess.
This year marks 30 years since Mrs S and I first started celebrating/observing/surviving the holiday season as a couple. Over the years I’ve learned a ton about this time of year and its impact on relationships, and as public service to you younger fellows I thought I’d take the time to share some of my observations with you and offer some constructive strategies to help you through the next 6 weeks or so. Remember this is my favorite time of the year and it can be yours too.
OK this is the point in the presentation when I’m going ask all you ladies in audience to please stand up and follow the Assistant Principal to the Library where you’re going to watch a very special film called “Mammal Moms and Dads”. We guys all got to watch it back in the 6th grade when you ladies had some secret meeting in the cafeteria, now it’s your turn. We’ll call you back when the presentation is over, thanks.
OK now lads lets chat.
The holidays are a stressful time for all of us, we dudes are stressed because this is the time of year when our lovely spouses shorten their fuses to the “instant” setting. With that in mind I’d like to help you break down the holidays a bit and try to put yourself in spousal shoes. We are wearing her shoes to learn what’s stressing her out, so for those of you so inclined this isn’t the time to put on the tap pants and ball gag, save that for later.
There are three primary drivers of holiday stress;
- Decorating. Having a nicely decorated home this time is a deeply ingrained genetic trait you can’t fight it.
- Selecting presents.
- Spending time with her Mother/Daughter/Sister or worse my mother.
There is a holiday dance that we do at our house very year as a warm up to the season, and my research indicates that almost every other couple I know has the same dance. Unfortunately it’s not optional, you have to do it. How you do it however can make a difference in your seasonal enjoyment. The dance starts with us lads. At some point, usually after hearing about all the things that our beloved are uptight about we say something to the effect of:
Don’t worry about it.
And with that it’s “Game ON”. In 30 years I’ve tried rephrasing this a million (30) different ways and there’s just no good way to do it, so I say just get it out there early and get past it and into the Holiday Jim Beam.
The more sensitive guys who are still concerned with harmonious living might try this line:
What can I do to help out?
I’d council away from this approach. Let’s be honest fellows, there isn’t much I’d actually do to help, I’m just throwing it out there to make myself look good. (self-awareness is a strength of mine) Mrs S has also been dealing with me for 30 years and frankly she sniffs this out in seconds. There are two possible responses to this statement and both are bad:
- The old “You aren’t being sincere in your offer so please refrain from making empty, self-serving offers of assistance” response. This is is typically concatenated to a raised eyebrow and glaring gaze that says “pathetic” and “you’re a liar” at the same time. If you slip up and accidently let this line slip out it’s best not to get to defensive when challenged because you’re just going to look stupid(er) later on. Still this is better than the other possible responses.
- “Are you questioning my abilities by saying that I’m not capable of planning the family holiday?” This can also be concatenated to a raised eyebrow and glaring stare. Since it’s impossible to determine which message is being intended, it’s best to avoid the whole situation by not responding to either, this one in particular can lead to serious trouble depending on how you answer this. [For reference see "Does this dress make my ass look big"]
What I have not considered is that some of you might actually be sincere in your offering to help. Know what you’re getting in if do if you are, you better be able to hold up your end of the discussion in a 20 minute diatribe on the merits of assorted holiday napkin patterns. It that really how you want to spend football time?
The critical part of this dance is to establish boundaries around holiday activities. Let your significant other know that you appreciate what she does, that you support her in every decision she might want to make about holiday trim, gifts and do it such in way that says “Me care? Kinda”.
The next step in the dance comes from her side:
You don’t know what I’m going through this time of year.
There’s a lot of versions of this statement. Critical here is not to be defensive, and not to offer up any suggestions. She’s not looking for suggestions dudes. Sounds like she is, but I’ve never seen a suggestion actually work, she wants something else, although I have no idea what.
When kids are small and Moms are new at this whole mess you might hear this version: “You only have to worry about yourself I have to worry about EVERYONE else.” This is especially common if you find yourself travelling, actually you might hear this all year when families are in pre-travel hysteria mode. Tell her you will pack the kids, and just buy whatever you missed when you get to your destination. Faster and less stressful.
You might hear the directed anger version of this: “You don’t do shit for the holidays.” While this might sting, it also might be true. Be careful however this is a particularly dangerous one that if handled poorly, well you might see the scope of the discussion of your ineptitude very quickly expand beyond the holiday season. There’s only one proper response here, feign confusion.
Finally the passive aggressive response: “It’s easy for you, you don’t have to worry about anything.” This is a toughie, while I’d love to point out that “have to” and “need to” are interchangeable here my gut tells me this probably isn’t the time or place to make that argument. Best here to just thank her for all the work she DOES to for all of us. Don’t give her the little peck her on the forehead however, that’s too much and she’ll figure out what you’re up too.
At the end of this dance she’s comfortable knowing that you know that she thinks you’re inept, and if you play your cards right everyone’s OK with that. Done right you only have to have this conversation once during the season. Done poorly you could do this dance every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas, be smart and suck it up guys.
Now let’s breakdown the stressors one by one:
I struggle with this one because like most dudes of my sexual orientation if I wasn’t cohabitating with a chick I’d never decorate for anything. Seems like a waste to drag shit out for a few weeks only to put it back again. I live in Minnesota, G-d decorates our yards with snow and reminds us that its winter with nipple freezing wind chills. Good enough for me. But for the ladies, it’s like controlling a remote control- a gender linked trait.
The very best advice I can offer here is KEEP YOUR OPINIONS TO YOURSELF. About everything. You do not want to get into a discussion about what decorating theme would be good this year or which creepy holiday diorama to display. The trick is to not have an opinion while not letting her know that you don’t have an opinion. Frankly every opinion you’re going to have is wrong anyway, so just button it up men. What your bride wants from you at this time is affirmation that she’s smarter than you and has better taste than you do. This is tricky. If you agree with everything, she’ll sniff you out as a fraud and you’re probably doing the dance again. Best way to handle is to agree with 90% of what she wants to do, and disagree with a few things so she knows you listened. (Which you do have to listen, I know this is really really hard.)
The ABSOLUTE worst thing you can do here is suggest that she not decorate. I need to do more research on exactly why this is such a trigger for women, but I can tell you it’s a bad, super bad actually. Most women take it as a personal attack rather than a suggestion for simplification. Don’t do it boys.
This is one where the womenfolk really get themselves all twisted up. This is probably the most confusing stresser of the holiday season because it goes back to the genetic difference between men and women. Most dudes can make a buy decision in seconds. Women cannot. . I’m still conducting some field research on this but I can tell you from the initial data I can make a couple observations on Female Gift Selection Criteria:
- There seems to be three factors that go into a gift decision; the recipient, the cost of the gift and, and this is one we men don’t get; time spent looking. A woman, in my research, cannot buy the first perfect gift they see when they set out on a gift buying trip. If Mrs S has allotted two hours at the mall to shop for holiday gifts she feels some strange obligation to use all two hours. If I find the perfect gift inside the front door of a store, I’m done, adios muchachos.
- Compare and Assort. Women like to make a choice based on as many options as they can consider at one time. This goes back to their desire to make the absolute best choice possible. I hope that’s not because they settled when it came time to selecting a spouse and are now overcompensating. I hope it has more to do with their ability to do something called “multi-tasking”. They can think about more than one thing at once, men cannot. When men strive for simplicity it’s because genetically, we’re pretty simple, as Mrs S says “Labrador Simple”.
There’s no good answer here gents. Men operate in a “See It-Buy It” mode. Women operate in a “Collect as many options as you can and then decide mode”, this difference is not solvable. Best to just avoid shopping with the wife, it’s just leads to massive frustration for everyone. Best to just be supportive and act excited when she shows you that “perfect” gift she found for her uncles dog.
Now, there is a scenario where she might ask you for suggestions, in this case it’s perfectly acceptable to have an opinion, she actually wants help here and who knows, you might just have the answer she’s looking for which makes you a Holiday Hero, and that can pay off big time.
Spending time with her Mother/Sister/Daugther/MIL etc.
This is the very situation that spawned the term REMF (Rear echelon MF). When female family members are doing the Estrogen Two Step it is vital to not say a word or get involved in anyway. Familial Females fighting will in all cases stop fighting in a nanosecond and unite around a common cause when that common cause going after a male family member. I’ve seen this play out millions of times over the years. My mother did it, my daughter and wife do it, and it’s a no win for anyone with a “Y” chromosome.
Best way to navigate this stormy sea:
- Leave the situation. There’s a reason that in the good old days when I was kid, family events would quickly segregate on gender lines. Men learned to flock together like schooling fish, for safety. Mixed gender arguments are never good.
- Don’t be Switzerland. There’s a difference between “I have no opinion” and “I take the fifth”. When the ladies at the holiday table are deep in discussion and ask your opinion I suggest “I don’t know enough about this topic to have an opinion, I’m sorry.” If pressed and you are forced to offer up one you are taking sides and when you take sides at family time there’s only one side to take…
- No matter what the argument, topic, no matter how ridiculous the statements made or points put forward, there is only one person who’s side you should take- your wife’s. Boys this is NOT the time to be right. You can be right in your heart and that should be good enough. Before you enter into a debate on the opposite side of the woman you’re sleeping with ask yourself if this argument/debate/discussion is so good that you want to have it over again in private. And over again. And again. Personally, having a mother who lives 2000 miles away (or even 2 blocks away) is easier than having a wife whose three floors away from me pissed off. Take her side dudes.
So there you have it boys, my guide to navigating the holidays. I give you this in confidence, don’t misuse the information here and for GAWDS sake don’t let your spouse know what you’re up too, she’ll figure it out soon enough. If you’re luck she might not even care, because dealing with you, ain’t no bed of roses either.