The holiday season will begin in earnest on Thanksgiving Day and proceed all the way to the New Year. And so too will the season of heightened and all too often unrealistic, yet unstated, expectations. Not exactly a recipe for seasonal good cheer.
This is a time of year when we are supposed to be enjoying the company of family and friends. But Turkey Day (or Hanukkah, Kwaanza or Christmas -- whatever your days of celebration) for married couples and those engaged to be married can be filled with many super-sized, unspoken expectations. And when those expectations go unmet, stress soon follows.
Allow me to lay out a few expectations that my wife and I have had of each other over the years that has led to some rather pointed "discussions" in our home during the holidays. Maybe some of these will sound familiar:
- Honey, I was expecting to stay home for Thanksgiving this year because I really don't want to travel with three little ones. I'm really tired from working insane hours and I'm looking forward to chilling out. Oh, what's that? You were expecting to spend time with the family 3,000 miles away in Seattle? Hmmm... planes, trains and automobiles. (Blank stare) Sounds like fun.
- Baby, I was expecting to watch Thanksgiving Day football all day... that's right, The Dallas Cowboys, The Miami Dolphins, The San Francisco 49ers, The Baltimore Ravens, The Green Bay Packers, and my beloved Detroit Lions. Oh! You were expecting to use the "good" TV after dinner with your family and girlfriends to watch the "The Real Housewives" marathon followed by the movie "Grease" for the 287th time?!?!
- Do you really expect me to wait in a line as long as the Nile River to pick up the honey baked ham? Um, I guess so...
These are just a few of the "lighter" expectations that couples lay on each other as Thanksgiving approaches. But, there are a host of more serious demands. Many couples who have been dating seriously are hoping their partner will consummate their union with a marriage proposal. Some "engaged" couples, those with no set wedding date, may insist over Thanksgiving that a concrete date be set -- with everything from the catering hall to the wedding band. And others, are expecting that their spouse behave as if they really like their mother-in-law, you know the kind, the one who comes to dinner and complains about the way the yams were cooked. These expectations threaten to turn would-be fun times into a relational apocalypse.
Fortunately, much of the seasonal downside can be avoided along with all those elevated expectations.
In my book, "Before You Wed... Read This!" I recommend sitting down and talking about what you both want, it's a great way to diffuse common expectations before they turn into World War III.
This year, following our own advice, my wife and I had a face-to-face conversation about what we wanted most from Thanksgiving. Basically, we prioritized. These are the expectations we agreed were truly important to us:
1. Quality Time: We both expect to spend quality time with family and friends.
2. Support: I expect to support my wife in preparing to entertain 10-15 guests. That means pre-ordering and grilling a juicy Turducken, buying that honey baked ham, picking up vegan mac and cheese (it's actually delicious) and running errands as needed.
3. Downtime: We agreed to help each other do a few things we enjoy. For me it's watching what I hope will be a few great NFL games. For Valerie, it will likely be a trip to the movies with our girls, probably to see the new Twilight flick, "Breaking Dawn."
Valerie was so appreciative that we sat down and had this talk. It was simple enough to do, and it was a crucial step in putting us on the same page.
Knowing what is important to one another, and making an honest effort to deliver will undoubtably go a long way towards mitigating the potential downside of the many unrealistic and unstated expectations surrounding Thanksgiving. And, it will serve to insulate you from the rest of the potential pitfalls we often stumble into as we prepare to dress the turkey.
Don't expect that Norman Rockwell painting to come to life this holiday season and you'll be fine. More on that in my next blog...
Your thoughts? Speak on it!
Darryl Cobbin is a husband, father, marketing expert, and author of "Before You Wed... Read This!" His next challenge is to help others succeed at marriage www.beforeyouwed.com