Say only what helps, each word a gift.
Everyone lives by a set of rules that is rarely spoken but always known. Needless to say, unspoken rules become more vocal when our spouse “breaks” them.
This became painfully obvious to us when we visited our families for the first time as a married couple.
One Christmas, we flew from Los Angeles to Chicago to be with our families for the holidays. The first night was at my (Leslie’s) house.
As was my family’s custom, I woke up early in the morning to squeeze in every possible minute with my family. Les, on the other hand, slept in.
I interpreted Les’s sleeping as avoidance and rejection and felt he did not value time with my family.
“It’s embarrassing to me,” I told Les. “Everyone is up and eating in the kitchen. Don’t you want to be with us?”
Les, on the other hand, didn’t understand my intensity. “What did I do? I’m just catching up from jet lag. I’ll come down after my shower,” he said.
As I found out later, Les expected a slower, easier pace during the holidays, because that’s the way it was at his house.
In this incident, Les had broken a rule he didn’t know existed, and I discovered a rule I had never put into words. Both of us felt misunderstood and frustrated.
We both had our own ideas about what was acceptable, and it never occurred to either of us that our expectations would be so different. Each of us became irritated by the other’s unspoken expectations and frustrated that the other did not live by the same rules.
Since that first Christmas we have learned to discuss our secret expectations and make our silent rules known. We have also helped the couples we counsel to become more aware of their own unspoken rules, to keep little problems from becoming big ones.
Reflect and Respond
Based on the home you grew up in, what unspoken rules do you hold about how Christmas should be celebrated? How do they “rules” impact your partner?
Go ahead, tell us in the comments.