Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Family and Festivities: My Latest A-ha...

" There are no individuals in this world. Only fragments of families."
Carl Whitaker


So I've talked a lot lately about the lessons my Marriage Champions class is teaching me these days. From "smiling socks" to communication styles, it seems like each week as I am sharing with the group from examples from our marriage that I have an "A-ha" moment that kind of rocks my world. A couple of weeks ago, I go t smacked with an epiphany that really highlighted a giant area of strain in our relationship.

Now don''t get me wrong, we are both well aware of this smoking woodpile about to burst into flame in our relationship, I have just never been able to get over my point of view to take a look through Charlie's window...and really had no idea what to do about it.

What is IT? The little scab that always seems to get infected this time of year? The holidays. Not the holiday itself really, but the way our individual families of origin celebrate them.

So we were talking about our family of origin and how it effects the way we show up in our relationships. I was sharing the story about my first Christmas with Charlie's family and how I cried myself to sleep on Christmas Eve because the way his family conducted their festivities was so foreign to me. I had never spent Christmas away from my family and not only was I terribly homesick, but I had no frame of reference for how to act or what was coming next. Charlie's family was wonderful and gracious, but I was terribly sad.

Charlie's parents divorced when he was young, so Christmas Day is spent in this kind of progressive celebration from house to house. Each celebration was with a small nucleus of the family, maybe 6-7 people and was quiet and intimate. Looking back on it, I probably should have rejoiced in the multiple celebrations and the opportunity to get to know each family on a more personal level, but I was simply too stunned by the stark contrast between our celebrations. My family all descends on one home- aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents - usually about 25-30 people, sometimes more. There is a huge amount of wrapping paper, food, football and uncles and cousins talking in ever louder tones to be heard over one another. It is beautiful chaos.

After 12 years of marriage, I have learned to love Charlie's family's Christmas rituals and have even brought some back to my family (the Kaufman Family Secret Wassail is now a staple in the Welch household- thank you Grandpa Mikey!) However, the celebrations are still intensely different and I still get a little unsettled by it.

As I was telling the story of this first Christmas in Maryland to our class, something occurred to me that I hadn't ever realized before. I realized that when telling the story I had never drawn the contrast before in such a way. Charlie's Christmas- quiet and intimate; mine- beautiful chaos. Hmmmm....

Our argument always centers around two things. When we are in Maryland- I get tired of going, I want to snuggle in, stay put, and argue loudly about politics and football ...and I don't have a place in the kitchen which is where I generally busy myself. I don't really know what to do with myself, so I resort to my defense mechanism: irritability and withdrawal- not exactly great behavior on Christmas. When we are in Arkansas- Charlie gets tired of the noise and same scenery...he wants to get up and go and to talk about life and get caught up with each other....he doesn't have a place on the couch or running errands which is where he usually busies himself. He gets overstimulated and overwhelmed, so he resorts to his defense mechanism: shutdown and withdrawal. I never realized that for every time I have been uncomfortable at his family's celebrations, he has too. I am just more vocal about how I am feeling.

So what to do with all this new found insight? Well, I don't know what works for you. For us, the solution is around defining our expectations. Both of us, for our holiday. What do we want to see happen, where do we want to fit, what do we need to make this our best year ever? And a lot of it is just understanding and recognizing why it is that we feel we need to withdrawal and work to eliminate that sense of discomfort.

Thanksgiving is upon us...kicking off the whirlwind of activity and celebration that is the Christmas season. It is also generally when we experience a lot of stress. I encourage you married folks to take a look at your spouse and try to remove THIS one piece of stress. Try to set aside your point of view for a moment, and look at it from your spouse's. Is there a place for them in your family's celebration? Can you make one?

I'd love to hear about your celebrations and traditions. What do you do? What are the differences between you and your spouse's families and the way they celebrate the holidays?

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