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We're Too Busy!

Also, "I Dread the Holidays" and "Emote Enough Already"

Q. My wife and I both love our jobs. But now that we're married, it seems our relationship has taken a back seat to our busy schedules. How can we do everything and still have quality time with each other?

A. We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you can't. After an exhausting day at work, you and your wife come home to negotiate dinner, dirty dishes, bills, garbage, outside maintenance, grocery shopping, laundry, and cleaning. And then there's your social life, your spiritual life, and, oh yes, your love life.

So what can you do to rescue quick-fading hours? Believe it or not, one of the biggest reasons dual-worker couples have difficulty finding time to spend on their marriage is that the husband doesn't shoulder his fair share of household tasks. Evaluate who's doing what when you're home. Make a list of household chores, how long they take to do, and who does them. If you discover an imbalance in household assignments, make some changes and redistribute the housework more evenly. After all, a few hours working together leaves more time for fun together.

Another common theft of couple-time is when you extend your workday. Do you bring work home, either concretely or psychologically? The dawn of computers, fax machines, and cell phones has made it possible to work anywhere, anytime. So check it out. Is your spouse resentful of the time you spend at your computer? Are you "married to your job" instead of to your partner? If so, set limits. Determine when you'll work at home if you need to and schedule it with your partner's time in mind.

If you make it a habit to do your share of household chores and "check in" with each other after each workday to get a read on each other's day and current emotional tone, you'll do a tremendous thing for your marriage.

I Dread the Holidays

Q. Every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas our parents expect us to spend time with them. My husband and I end up in a debate over whose home we should visit. It sucks the joy right out of our holidays. What can we do?

A. Most couples, especially newlyweds, expect the holidays to be an opportunity for bringing them closer together. Unfortunately, the "happiest time of the year" often turns out to be one of the toughest. But there are practical things you can do to make this situation easier on everyone:

Admit the potential for problems. Be open with each other about the possibility of hitting turbulence. If you try to ignore it, your problem will only become bigger. So think through how things might go and how each family and your spouse might respond. Then share your different perspectives with each other.

Make plans early. Establish a plan of action. If both families expect you to join them for the holidays, start making plans in the early fall. This gives everyone time to adjust their feelings and will make a smoother holiday season.

Give and take without being finicky. Sometimes maturity means being flexible and willing to compromise. What about trading off holidays—Thanksgiving with your family and Christmas with his? Or maybe you spend this year with your partner's family and next year with yours. The point is to be open to suggestions.

Be careful how you compromise. Sometimes couples get caught in the trap of trying to please everyone but themselves. It's important to focus on making your holiday special for the two of you, not just for your families. For example, if your families live a few hours apart you might consider splitting your time on Christmas Day between them. But also think about spending most of that special day en route from one house to the other. Is that really what you want? If so, be sure you adjust your expectations accordingly.

Be loyal to each other. As you break the news to the parents who won't be seeing you around the holidays this year, take great care not to blame your partner or your in-laws for the situation. Let your parents know that this is a decision you made together as a team.

Emote Enough Already

Q. My wife says I never express my feelings and I say she has enough emotions for the both of us. Then she stews for hours. I don't see why I should "express" myself the way she thinks I should.

A. We often take for granted that our spouse should know exactly how we're feeling. That's unfair. Feelings are too fickle and unpredictable to put that burden on another person. Try these strategies to help your spouse understand you better.

1. Use "I" statements. For your spouse to accurately understand your feelings, you must take responsibility for your feelings. You do this by using "I" statements rather than "you" statements. Notice how blaming these "you" statements sound:

"You're driving me crazy!"

"You never let me get a word in."

If you recast these statements by taking responsibility for them, they become less inflammatory and are more likely to be heard:

"I feel confused and angry."

"I want to talk now."

2. Be honest. You may be tempted to describe dinner with your in-laws as "fine, very pleasant," when actually you were bored and irritated the whole evening. Or you may want to say you're tired and just want to go to bed when actually you're worried about the finances and afraid to broach the subject. As hard as this may be, resist the temptation. When you cut off your partner from your true feelings, you also cut off yourself and make it that much harder genuinely to express emotions.

3. Be congruent. It's confusing when your tone of voice and body language don't match your words. If you say, "I'm fine," while your tight face communicates the contrary, which is your partner supposed to believe—your words or your nonverbal behavior? Don't make your spouse try to figure it out. Spend some introspective time and see what's really going on. Then be consistent.

Leslie Parrott, Ed.D., and Les Parrott, Ph.D., are co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University and authors of Love Talk: Speak Each Other's Language Like You Never Have Before (Zondervan). Visit Les and Leslie at www.RealRelationships.com.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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