By Amanda Idleman, Crosswalk.com
While full of celebration, the holidays can also be a time when we experience extra stress. Families gather more often, which can sometimes mean tense relationships are being navigated. Work and finances can also become burdensome during this very busy season! Just because jolly songs are playing on the radio does not necessarily mean that our lives are all joy-filled.
When we observe our partners enduring undue stress from work, relationships, or maybe from pressure to provide a perfect Christmas, it's important that we lean in to show them support. Don't let the full schedule stop you from tuning into your spouse's needs and helping them find joy amid this very intense season.
Keep your eyes open for signs that your partner may be struggling with severe depression or anxiety. The holidays can be a trigger for mental health issues to flare up. Don't hesitate to bring in help from professionals if you are concerned that your spouse is seriously depressed.
Here are a few ways you can offer your partner support if they are facing a difficult situation over the holidays:
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1. Help Each Other Say "No" to Toxic Obligations
Sometimes the best way to avoid holiday stress and potentially toxic interactions is to avoid them altogether. If you know that the dinner at your Aunt's house will lead to your spouse being verbally assaulted, then one of the best things you can do is just say no to attending that dinner. Boundaries are so helpful in maintaining a joyful life!
If your work Christmas party will expose you to harassment from co-workers, then use each other as an excuse not to show up! With the caution that COVID has brought, you can always gracefully claim that one of you is under the weather, and the host will be glad that you are opting out.
If work is demanding too much of your partner over this holiday rush, talk about how you can support each other in setting some common-sense boundaries for what is work time and what is family time. If you are expected to be on-call all hours of the day, it may be a good time to support your partner in expressing that they need time away from work to maintain proper mental health. The expectation of being available to work around the clock is unhealthy. We all need time and space to destress and connect in our homes, away from the demands of our employers.
2. Find Ways to Unwind Together
Sometimes we can't make everything better for our partners, but we are their best chance at finding a safe space to unwind, even during a difficult time. Plan a special date night, bake a special treat to enjoy, or unwind together on the couch after your long day with some festive Christmas movies. Create space to relax and remove yourself from the stress of living in an unhealthy situation.
3. Engage in Healthy Habits Together
Depression, anxiety, and stress require a holistic approach to gain freedom from these forces. Encourage your spouse to find professional support; if their situation is severe and ongoing, medications can be helpful. You can also support your spouse by getting on board with a household effort to create more healthy habits.
Bridges to Recovery recommends setting up a routine and even rules for certain healthy habits. One example is setting the goal to get up and go to bed at the same time every night, aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep. Another great life-giving habit is preparing healthy meals together and avoiding or limiting the usual holiday sweets. Make a goal to get outside together every day for exercise, fresh air, and a dose of healing nature. If alcohol is something your spouse often turns to in an attempt to cope, give up drinking for the holidays together.
4. Help Each Other Manage Holiday Expectations
Sometimes it's our expectations that get in the way of joyfully navigating the holidays. If we expect to work long hours, enjoy every moment with our difficult extended families, decorate the perfect home, give lavish gifts, and do it all without feeling stressed out, our expectations may need to be adjusted. Talk freely about your greatest goals for the holidays and the barriers you feel to achieving them. Discuss how some of those expectations could be adjusted so you can enjoy this season more fully as a family.
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5. Lift Your Spouse Up in Prayer
If your spouse is truly stuck in a toxic environment, then it's time to get on your knees and start praying for them. God does not desire us to remain in situations where we are being abused or mistreated. This is not God's good plan for our lives. Pray that they would have wisdom on removing themselves from the situation. Pray they would find grace to forgive their abuser. Pray that God would provide a new opportunity if a new job is required for them to break free from unhealthy expectations. Pray for them to see their value and be able to kindly communicate the need for healthy boundaries in the situation they face. Pray daily that God would go with them, protect them, and provide for them as they walk through this challenging season.
6. Encourage Your Spouse to Connect with a Friend or Counselor
Sometimes our words can fall on deaf ears with our spouses. The familiarity that exists in a marriage can make hearing each other hard, especially when it comes to more sensitive topics. If this is the case, encourage your spouse to seek the counsel of a trusted friend or a professional counselor. Their unbiased view may help them see their situation with new clarity. Sometimes just talking to a neutral party can open up the chance for your partner to be more transparent than they may be with someone they are more familiar with.
Wisdom is gained through gathering the wise counsel of others. Encourage your partner to seek out wisdom for their situation so they know how to move forward with confidence. Community is so important to living healthy lives.
Psalm 34:17-18 says, "When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." God is near to us when we are in tough places! God will hear and respond to the cries for help from both you and your spouse. God wants us to be encouraged and to live healthy, whole lives.
Take time to declare Scriptures that speak life into your home, marriage, and that encourage your spouse. God's Word and your willingness to speak life into their situation are wonderful reminders to your partner that they are not alone in the situation they face. Being with each other in these hard seasons is one of the most gracious things we can do for our spouses. They will know that they are loved by your support and encouragement!
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