Is this a season of joy or a season of stress for you?

I used to dread this time of year.

Like many other women, I was busy, busy, busy. I had shopping, kids’ concerts, class parties, baking, extra church activities, decorating, and work-related holiday events for both my husband and me. Plus, it was a crunch time at my job. Much of this was outside my control, although some of it I placed on my own shoulders in my efforts to “do Christmas right.”

People would mention Christmas joy and I rolled my eyes. Who has time for joy? I would think. I can barely remember what it was like for Christmas to feel merry.

The holidays were something to get through. Inevitably I would be sitting in church on Christmas Eve, suddenly aware that in all the attention I’d paid to my obligations, I hadn’t remembered to pay attention to the approach of the Christ Child.

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This season took its toll on my marriage every year.

As busy as I was, I had less time than usual for Big Guy. He already felt neglected because I avoided sex and made the kids a higher priority than I made him. During the holiday season, it got worse. Many of the extra activities took time—not only for the activity itself but also for preparation. My mind was filled with constantly-changing to-do lists. I was doing and thinking about more, I was always on the go, and I had even less time than usual to recharge and rest.

With so much pressure on me already, my husband’s attempts to connect with me felt like just one more person to please and one more item on my to-do list. On top of that, the fact that he wasn’t trying to ease my burden in any way felt like another example of how he didn’t care about me.

I felt like I was the only one trying to get things done, when what I really wanted was to feel like a team. Asking Big Guy for help usually turned into an argument about sex, so I didn’t ask for the help I needed. When he did help me, if he didn’t do the task as I wanted him to, I would take it so personally that I felt unloved and then unable to connect with him sexually—so it’s no surprise that he wasn’t a willing helper. He felt each task was an opportunity to earn sex—or lose the opportunity.

By the time we got through the holidays and had more time to connect, we were both feeling even more disconnected from each other than before. I perceived his urgency for connection through sex as a sign that he valued me only for sex. He perceived my urgency for connection through conversation as one more hoop that he had to jump through in order to earn sex.

Occasionally I would make a new year’s resolution to work on sex—but our piles of hurt and neglect created too high a hurdle for me to think it was worth trying.

Instead of holiday joy, I was ending the year with holiday stress and holiday hurt.

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As I worked on my issues that interfered with sexual intimacy, I discovered some things that helped me experience this season in less stressful ways. I hope they can help you, too.

  • Pay attention to Advent. Think about God’s great gift of His Son to us. Sing Christmas songs in the car and the shower. Make time to pray each day—especially when you don’t think you have the time.
  • Control what you can. Serve store-bought cookies or bake with pre-made cookie dough. Allow yourself to give a good enough gift instead of looking for the perfect one. Serve one less dish at Christmas dinner.
  • If you can’t control it, look for the blessings. If you need to hit the mall because it’s the only place you can find the cute top your daughter wants, take time to enjoy looking at the decorations that you didn’t have to put up and won’t have to pack away. When you are waiting an extra half-hour for children’s choir rehearsal, use the time to pray, to walk or sit outside, or to read a book. When you’re running your errands, pray at every stop light.
  • Prioritize your marriage. If you need to attend a holiday party for your husband’s work place, give subtle flirty signals; when you get home, invite him to unwrap you from your fancy clothes. Look for times to be with him, even if it means the dishes stay dirty overnight or presents have to sit unwrapped for a while. Let your husband’s arms be a sanctuary away from the to-do lists and stresses. When you have a busy week ahead of you, initiate sex so you can both store up some lovin’ to get you through the next few days. Make love in front of the Christmas tree at least once.

As I learned to back off from some things and to prioritize Big Guy and our marriage, I began to notice a difference in how I experienced this time of year.

I slowed down. I took on less. I removed some of the pressure I’d put on myself and gave myself permission to not try so hard.

Making my marriage a priority reduced some of the difficult build-up of tension I’d experienced in the past. Taking the time to connect with Big Guy gave me a much-needed oasis of restfulness during a busy time.

Even more, the strengthened connection between us made it easier for us to function as a team. I was more comfortable asking my husband for help knowing that it wouldn’t turn into an argument about sex. He was more willing to help me since he didn’t wonder if his task performance would be a determining factor in whether he got to spend sexy time with me.flourish2

Slowing down, finding refreshment in my time with my husband, and feeling like part of a team eliminated much of the stress for me.

Today, with Thanksgiving just a couple days away, I am happy. I’m excited that I will soon be decorating for Christmas and buying gifts. I’m looking forward to Advent. To Christmas songs. To Christmas joy.

The season that once caused me so much stress has become a time of joy for me.

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As you look at the coming weeks, what can you do to strengthen your marriage and help you experience the joy of this season?

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