Carolers are singing, the doorbell is ringing, and it's time for some holiday cheer. But wait! Before you open that door, are you absolutely sure of who is waiting for you on the other side? The holidays have a way of luring house guests, after all. And if you're not careful and make them feel too welcome—well, they just may settle in for a long winter's nap.
Jokes aside, it really is a happy time when loved ones come to call. But, in reality, it doesn't take long for the family ties that bind to feel snug. And, unfortunately, marriages have a way of suffering from the tension. Read on for tips on surviving your house guests—as a team:
Set some boundaries (and let some slide …)
Before your guests even step foot in your home, talk with your spouse about the visit. Discuss how you can make the other feel comfortable and less burdened by the invasion. If your spouse insists on specific boundaries, then respect them. This could mean bedtime by 10 p.m. or no "guest pets" in the house. Or you may decide on a guest-free zone, where the two of you can reconnect and unwind.
Make your kids comfortable, too. Determine that at least one parent, when not entertaining the guests, will be in charge of seeing to the kids' needs and feelings. Tuck away their favorite toys and books in their rooms. Or create a calm and comforting refuge for them in your room for those times when the strain of being without their routines overwhelms them.
Show a united front. If one of you is opposed to smoking indoors, for instance, then stand together when you respectfully inform your guests that they will have to take it outside. It's acceptable to set the tone of your home, especially when you and your partner support each other.
Ease up on your usual standards for a spotless house. By all means, work together to tidy up for comfort and cleanliness, but resist the urge to purge while your guests sit idly by. Accept the possibility that one of you may assume the lion's share of the chores, depending on which set of in-laws is visiting. If you fret and squabble over every soda can and discarded straw sleeve, you'll send an unwelcome, unflattering message.
You can't do it all. Don't be afraid to ask your partner to help in the kitchen! If he's a wonderful breakfast chef, then put him in charge of the pancakes and eggs for your hungry crew. But try to plan meals that won't tether either of you to the kitchen. Prepare a tray of sliced cold cuts and cheeses, fruits and fresh veggies, or break out your crockpot for a hot and easy meal at the end of the day. (Check out http://crockpot.cdkitchen.com for great meal ideas.)
Share the entertaining duties. While one showers or sees to the children, the other can make nice with the guests. Rent movies (or borrow them from the library), bring out board or card games or a jigsaw puzzle. Or set out old photo albums to thumb through and enjoy. When you both need a break, have handy some current magazines, newspapers, or crossword puzzles for those awkward, quiet moments when you can't be there or aren't up for more conversation.
Dote on each other in private moments. Offer a back massage or bring a bowl of ice cream to your spouse to enjoy at the end of a long day. Call a temporary truce and set aside any hard feelings you may currently be experiencing in your marriage. Strive to be happy and "in the moment" with each other while you have visitors.
Finally, relax! Recognize that each of you is feeling the strain of house guests, but resolve not to blame the other for it. Instead, do what you can to be a safe place for each other until things get back to normal. Above all, enjoy the time you have together with family!
Kerri S. Mabee, a freelance author, has been married 17 years.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.