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Holiday Boundaries: Your Same Team Guide to Merry Everything

Let’s be honest, the holidays are filled with some of our favorite people and some of our not so favorite people. Holiday gatherings are often a time where extended family and family friends tend to ask more questions and/or bring up controversial topics such as politics, past hurts, gossip about another family member or neighbor, etc. Rest assured that you are not alone in these experiences.

We have coached hundreds of couples through navigating the holiday season as the same team without compromising the joy, the fun, and the connection this season has to offer. We are sharing real life coaching material with you, today! The truth is that it all comes down to setting and holding boundaries! Some of you read that word and internally cringed; that’s ok! We get it! Boundaries are not the sexiest thing in the world … at first. *wink wink*

Where Why Meets Who

Setting and holding Same Team boundaries will not only protect you and your spouse from what is outside of you but they also safeguard your relationship - your hearts, your minds, your peace, and your intimacy. Josh and I are very passionate about boundaries because while they did not feel good to set and hold in the beginning, boundaries are the very thing that has protected us, our family, our values, our peace, our finances, and even our dreams and purpose.

Typically in the dynamic of marriage, each spouse has a set of boundaries they would like the other spouse to hold. This is often in the context of having and holding boundaries with in-laws; although that is not always the case, sometimes it’s extended family, friends, work, and maybe even extra-curricular activities.

RULE: Whichever spouse has the closest relationship, is the spouse to set and hold the boundary.

Your parents, your responsibility. Your friend, your responsibility. Your team, your responsibility.

We coached a couple once where the wife was trying to set and hold a boundary with her husband’s mother. While the boundary was very reasonable and all the best communication techniques were used (timing, tone, body language, and words), the conversation did not go well. A month later, the husband set and held the same boundary with his mother. While his mother did not like the boundary, the conversation was respectful and effective. If they are your parents, it’s your responsibility to have the conversation and follow through. This prevents your spouse from being “the enemy” (while that can seem dramatic, it’s also accurate) in the eyes of your family. This protects your spouse AND it protects the unity in your own home.

Coming into Agreement

One of the main pain points we see with couples when it comes to setting and holding boundaries is that one spouse may not agree with the other spouse’s perspective of needing the boundary.

RULE: You do not have to agree with the reason to respect the boundary.

This is a big rule and one that is often the hardest for couples to grasp in the beginning. We coached a couple where the wife desired that work phones be put on Do Not Disturb mode by 6:30 PM every week night and on the weekends. While the husband agreed that her perspective and logic was valid, the husband did not agree that the boundary was necessary. At the end of the day, to be on the same team the phone needed to be in a mode that did not rob his attention from his family in the evenings.

This rule is NEVER about who is right and who is wrong. This rule is about being in agreement to be on the Same Team no matter what. If a spouse feels that the boundary is rooted in an unrealistic expectation, having the conversation opens the door for deeper and more productive conversation. There are also seasons that can occur in a marriage (especially if trust has been broken) that the boundary just needs to be the boundary, temporary emotions put aside, such as sharing locations, being home by a certain time consistently, and having an accountability partner (that’s not your spouse).

Holiday Logistics

While this may not be the festive read you thought it would be, I want to be clear that we love the holiday season. We are also aware that this season can bring about opportunities for growth in couples. I am sure you have already begun to receive those holiday cards, the party invitations, and maybe even already started buying gifts. While it’s all super fun, we are going to give you four basic but foundational boundaries to walk through with this season.

Prioritize Your Relationship:

Prioritize your daily connection time. This is usually the first compromise that couples make when seasons get “busy”. The truth is that we live in a world where you will always be busy; it’s not an excuse or reason to push your relationship to the back burner in life. Make this a DAILY non-negotiable.

We created the SASHE method to help couples reconnect and stay connected with only 15 minutes (max) per day. I know that might sound too good to be true but how much of your conversation with your spouse is about logistics, money, or a to-do list? This tried and true method helps to restore and protect your emotional intimacy which in turn protects your physical intimacy! Grab your SASHE guide here.

Set Clear Expectations

NOBODY can read your mind. You and your spouse need to be on the same team and on the same page when it comes to your expectations. We hear couples say things like “we have been together a while now, he/she should already know.” They don’t know and it’s not from a lack of care. Our brains gather over 11 million bits of information per second while our conscious mind is only able to process about 120 bits of information per second.

The point is that you need to assume that your spouse has good intentions and be willing to discuss clearly and effectively what expectations you have. It might seem silly but if you expect that you and your spouse will be wearing color coordinating outfits to the company Christmas party but you did not discuss it, you cannot be frustrated with her/him when they walk out of the closet wearing something different. Save you and your spouse the small and big headaches by having the conversation about what you expect from each other this season. Yes, you may need to adjust some expectations. Yes, you may need to repeat yourself and that’s ok. Yes, you need to be willing to meet your spouse’s expectations where you have agreed to.

Protect Your Yes

It is perfectly ok to say no. This season is typically full of a lot of events from family gatherings to work commitments, from school events to friends-giving, and so on. We see it all the time; couples don't want to "let them down" so they overextend themselves (usually in more ways than one) which invites conflict and/or burn out which have a high potential to rob you of the good things that the season has for you.

There is no award for having the fullest holiday calendar. I am not sure who needs to read that one again, but do it. We do not recommend filling your season’s calendar; you need to leave room for you and your spouse to rest together especially if you have kids in the home. I strongly encourage you to say yes to the best and no to the rest. How do you determine what is best? That’s a great question and leads us right to the next boundary.

Decide Everything Together

If you really want to prevent unnecessary conflict and increase your emotional intimacy this season, decide everything together. Decide what you will attend and with who. Decide on a budget for events, outfits, gifts, and any extenuating arrangements that you will need to make (such as childcare).

Rule: If it takes from your peace, your values (crosses boundaries), your marriage, or your finances (over or out of budget), the answer is NO.

This is a great rule to have in your household outside of the holidays; we are mentioning here because the holidays is statistically the season when most “rules” are thrown out the window. We strongly recommend weekly meetings between you and your spouse (including your kids on certain parts is also a great idea). Using a shared calendar, take 15-30 minutes every week to go over schedules, finances, and needs. This dedicated time allows you to run everything through the filter of this rule and gives you the opportunity to make adjustments as you both need. Even if you are attending something without your spouse, being in agreement and having peace that you are not compromising what is BEST and most important is just another way of walking out the Same Team lifestyle.

The What-Ifs

This is probably my favorite objection from couples. I am sure by now you have already thought of at least one scenario where “this might not work”. A principle is a principle; a boundary is a boundary. Wherever you and your spouse are using a Same Team approach, it will work. I also think that there is a common misconception many people have about what setting and holding a boundary looks like. Not every boundary has to be a conversation between you and the person(s) you need to hold the boundary with.

More often than not, this actually looks like staying true to your own word with your actions. For example, if you and your spouse commit to leaving a holiday gathering by a certain time or you have a keyword/key phrase to use when one is ready to leave, you follow through. If you know the gossip queen is coming to an event, holding your boundary can look like excusing yourself or even just using simple phrases such as “that’s none of my business; we don’t need to talk about that”.

Decide together how you and your spouse will respond even if your boundary is not received and/or continuously crossed. Having this predetermined response will help you hold the boundary, stay on the same team, and protect your marriage - along with your own peace. Josh and I have our even if responses because the only thing we can control is what we allow; we cannot control others’ words or behaviors.

From the bottom of our hearts, we wish you the happiest of holidays. We know that if you take the time to really sit down, discuss these boundaries, and implement your agreements, you will not only get the most out of this season, you will also walk into the new year more connected, financially stable, and energized for what is to come.

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