Home Alone

a tree for two
Couple building snowman
Photo by Toa Heftiba

Home Alone is the theme of Christmas, 2020. Most of us face this wise choice face with deep sadness. We’re also pretty angry although we may not know where to direct our anger. For some, like my husband Jay and I, being “alone” for Christmas means not absolute solitude, but attempting to celebrate the holiday as a couple without any gathering of family. We haven’t had to do this since our honeymoon. At that time, being alone was delicious, a retreat from world of family and friends, from school and work, a quiet time to just let it sink in that we were married.

yearning for much more
Couple and their tree
Photo by S&B Vonlan

Trying to recapture that same sense of delightful togetherness is much harder this year because after that first Christmas, we always celebrated with large groups of extended family members. Once we became parents, our children were the focus of every year’s celebration. This tradition continued even after they grew up. All four children came home for Christmas every year until our grandchildren were born. After that we took turns gathering at our children’s homes for Christmas. All of us even traveled to Argentina in 2006 when our third daughter and her family lived in South America for the year.

seeking solace and wisdom
Couple holding hands
Photo by Nani Chavez

We have been fortunate. We know that. Still, we are filled with angst and pain as we confront the Christmas without the family. We try to cheer each other up, but haven’t been having a lot of success. So, when the Gottman Institute Blog’s post, “How to Support Your Partner When You’re Hurting Too,” by Donald Cole, landed in my email box it felt like a godsend.

As I read Dr. Cole’s advice, I could see ways Jay and I could avail ourselves of his wisdom to get through this hard time. I could see there parallels to my own themes of intentional marriage.

intentional listening magic

He begins with “Set aside time to listen to each other.” Jay and I are pretty religious about this already.  As busy as we might get with separate projects during the day, we put them aside at six o’clock to sit and have a drink together. During the challenge of this season, this may be a time to use that quiet hour to remember past holidays and bring up happy memories, or even just share how hard it’s going to be this year.

no one is a mind reader
Couple in deep conversation
Photo by Joanna Nix

Ask for what you need,” Dr. Cole cautions. I feel he’s looking right at me. Jay has always depended on me to be the “gift-giver” of the family, and often depends on our adult children to purchase the gifts for Christmas for me. If we’re going to be alone this year, clearly it’s up to me to specify what gift I’d like and help him know where to purchase it – the hard part will be to do this graciously.

Being just the two of us for several different celebrations is bound to up the stress level on both of us. So, I can see that it will be important for us to set aside a regular time for tough conversations – something we both might be more inclined to avoid because “after all it’s the holidays.”

acknowledge stress and tension

Practice stress reducing conversation,” he continues. This is listening and sharing, not about relationship difficulties, but about those things outside the partnership that are causing stress. The difference struck me as very important. The response, Dr. Cole suggests, “What’s the worst part of this for you?” really resonated for me.

But at times when you are both hurting, it’s also important, he insists to “repair the damage” inflicted on the relationship. All couples hurt each other. If we realize that, we can be courageous enough to tell our partner when they hurt us and big enough to hear this and try to change.

most of the time – make merry
Blazing fire in fireplace
Photo by Hayden Scott

Two of Dr. Cole’s maxims go together for me, “Engage in non-demand affection,” and “Make time for good things between you.” Jay and I are ordinarily a pretty affectionate couple.  Yet, without the hugs and kisses of the children and grandchildren and the warmth that just radiates through the room when the whole family gathers in one place, we need to ramp up on the hugs, kisses and cuddles at home – and maybe roll back the rug, turn on some music and slow dance.

Just before Christmas our wedding anniversary pops up. On the occasion of our first anniversary, we were both still in school and had minimum wage jobs. Our financial obligations far outweighed our income, but we went ahead and splurged anyway. We went out to dinner at Fanny’s, an Italian restaurant.

Italian restaurant
Photo by Svend Nielsen

The check was $10 for two, which was as much as we usually spent on groceries in a week.  That anniversary set a precedent. Every anniversary since then we have gone out to fancier and fancier restaurants. For most of those years we coupled the dinner with tickets to the theater.

Faced with the quandary of how to make our anniversary a “good time” this year, we know we cannot go out to dinner.  But I feel the “good times” are greatly diminished if I have to cook. We will have to be very intentional about choosing a take-out or delivery that feels celebratory enough. We’re pondering as well what might be a great movie to watch? The best music to listen to? Of course, we’ll have a fire in the fireplace.

If you, kind readers, have any suggestions I am open to all ideas.