Packing the Suitcase
by Cassie Reid, Ph.D., LPC-S
In the original creation, God made male and female to be together. Because of this, a man leaves father and mother, and in marriage he becomes one flesh with a woman—no longer two individuals, but forming a new unity.
—Mark 10:6–8 MSG
In my opinion, one of the hardest holiday seasons is the first one after a couple gets married. Again, I’m stating my opinion. Some people probably call it their most magical, but it wasn’t for me. The first Christmas together is usually difficult because the couple has to make many new decisions. Where will we go? Whom will we see? What traditions will we keep, especially considering some of them may be quite sacred to us?
When I think about all these decisions, a suitcase analogy comes to mind. When a couple marries, they both come with their own suitcases. One of the major goals and challenges of marriage is to get both individuals’“stuff”into one bag. The items in each person’s suitcase are things held sacred, by others for them, rather than things they decide they need for themselves. Couples often discover something has been“packed”long after they’ve said,“Ido.” These extra things get thrown into the suitcases by family members and remain unseen until the couple tries to combine bags.
My husband and I took a great pre-marriage class. The class leaders shared an old story about a newly married couple cooking their first Christmas ham. As the two prepared to put the ham in the oven, the wife cut off the round end of the ham. The husband asked why she did it like that, and she replied,“That’s how you make a ham.” While discussing this ham preparation tradition with the wife’s family members several days later, they made a discovery—the family cut off the end of the ham because the bride’s grandmother did not have a pan large enough to fit the entire piece of meat.
Isn’t that like so many things in our lives? We simply accept them as the way things are until we start asking questions. That bride believed all along that cutting off the round end was a required step for preparing a ham. In reality, her grandmother’s necessity became a family norm until her husband asked her why. You will probably find a few things like this in your suitcase. Marriage gives someone with an outside point of view the opportunity to ask us why we have packed the specific contents of our suitcase. If we are willing to look with unbiased eyes, we might even save a serving or two of ham.
How can a couple address their separate and shared suitcases?
Evaluate what you have packed in your bag.
What did you personally pack? What did others pack for you? Which contents are necessary for moving forward in your life together? Ask why you feel that way. If you can successfully answer the why, you will find it much easier to put the right things in your shared bag.
Inevitably, you will find something that is difficult to leave behind, but your conscience and the Holy Spirit will let you know it needs to go.
As a couple, seek out someone to help you find a resolution if this packing process creates a dilemma. You will need an objective person who can listen and understand you and your spouse. This person should be able to help you answer the why.
Decide what you will allow into the shared suitcase.
Remember, you can’t pack ten outfits and only leave room for your partner to put in one pair of underwear and a toothbrush. Be fair. Divide the bag’s space as equally as possible. The contents of your shared bag should allow both of you to“survive”into the future. If you carefully negotiate what is packed, you will not only survive but thrive as well.
For more information on secrets to navigating the holidays with grace and composure, please check out the book I wrote, Unwrapped: Open the Gift of Holiday Sanity here