Holiday Boundaries. My Husband Is Rude With Our Company

Morning friends,

We arrived at our new home in Arizona! Our daughter’s family was here as was our son. We managed to cook a Thanksgiving meal and used real dishes and silverware (I just can’t eat the Thanksgiving meal off paper plates). But everything is in chaos and it’s a challenge figuring out where to put things from a 4-bedroom house into a 2-bedroom house. I thought we threw a lot away, but we have a lot more to get rid of.

Like I mentioned earlier, purging takes time but it’s a good thing. When we neglect purging our stuff, (as I have for about 25 years), the task feels overwhelming, but still not impossible. As they say, one day at a time.

Sometimes we allow our inner stuff to accumulate for too long as well. Perhaps this season of Advent, you can give yourself 30 minutes a day to purge. What needs to go from your heart. Bitterness? Fear? Insecurity? Resentment? Old wounds from your past? Lies you believe? People pleasing behavior? Don’t get me wrong, purging these things for 30 minutes a day won’t completely eliminate all of them anymore than my purge for my move completely eliminated all my extra stuff.

For example, my husband and I each had our own office in our old home. We also had an office for him to work with my business. That means 3 computers, 3 printers, 3 desks.Well we sold all 3 desks because the house we purchased had a desk, but who need 3 printers? We can funnel all of our computers to one printer. And we don’t need three computers anymore. We can transfer the data onto one of the other two. But now that we have made an intention to purge, the momentum is there. We are not buying new things until we get rid of the old things. We will need some new things for this house, but we must make space by letting go of the old.

What new things might God have for you in this New Year of 2017? It will take you to make space in your inner life to receive them. I’m becoming more and more aware of how much space crankiness and anxiety take up in my heart and I am RESOLVED to regularly take stock and purge them when I see them popping up throughout my day. How about you? What needs to go?

Next week on December 7th we start our 2-session Moving Beyond People Pleasing class. If you have trouble setting boundaries and speaking up for yourself, this is a place to start to learn to say no without feeling guilty. Click here to learn more.



Question: When we have family gatherings with our children and grandchildren, my husband gets extremely territorial when they all first arrive. He can be very rude and berating and sarcastic to get his point across and it's very embarrassing to me. And makes me feel very uncomfortable. Example would be, maybe to my daughter in law, do your kids always drag every toy out of the toy box? He tends to be obsessive compulsive, which adds to the chaos when 25 people are in your house for a week at Christmas!

It causes so much tension inside me because I'm trying to juggle a lot of responsibilities with a house full of company, I don't need the additional pressure of his unkindness and sarcastic remarks to my family. What would you suggest I do or say to keep this habitual behavior from happening? I'm already dreading the Christmas gathering because of him. But also looking forward to having my family!

It's like when they don't meet his expectation in the care of our house, he mumbles stuff that they hear him say. It's so embarrassing.

Answer: First, let me tell you I am all for family gatherings at holidays. That is one reason I moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona, so I could be closer to family, especially during holiday times. And it does create quite a bit of chaos when there are a lot of people in your home at one time, especially for a whole week. Everyone is so excited to gather together and see all of their relatives. But the guests usually don’t think about the extra noise or mess or extra stress they may add.

I was talking with a female friend recently who has four adult children who all have four children. They all come for a week during Christmas and she loves it and hates it. She loves it because she longs to see everyone, loves to serve and play with the grandkids. She hates it because she ends the week totally exhausted with a huge mess to clean up, coupled with a tinge of resentment that her adult kids didn’t help her more.

I encouraged her to have a frank talk with her adult kids this year before they show up. I find sometimes when adult children come to visit mom and dad, they see it as a vacation for them and aren’t always as helpful as you might need them to be. They are glad to get a vacation from parenting, from cooking and cleaning, but aren’t always conscious of all the extra work it puts on you. Although I sense that you love having your family around for the entire week, you may need to make some adjustments so that it’s less tense for you and your husband.

Here are some suggestions. From your question, I sense your husband is more of an introvert than you are. He finds large crowds of people exhausting and draining and the chaos from them unsettling, even when they are his own family. In his own clumsy way he is trying to set boundaries for himself to manage the event but instead of speaking up in a clear way, he’s doing it in a way that is harsh, awkward, and embarrassing for you. I’m wondering if he feels he has to do that because there have been no rules or boundaries set up ahead of time for this visit?

I think it would be wise for you to sit down with your spouse ahead of time to talk about this problem. You can say something like, “I know these large family gatherings stress you out. I recognize that there is noise and mess and chaos and that really bothers you. Yet the way you try to manage all of that is harsh and I fear it makes our family feel unwelcome in our home. That’s not okay with me. I also want our kids and grandkids to have a good relationship with you and not see you as an ogre who is always critical or mad. Your attitude creates a lot of tension for me as I’m trying to cook and get things ready for everyone and when I see you getting mad and say harsh things, I feel stressed and embarrassed. What can we do for this year to make it better for you and less tense for me?”

By having this discussion ahead of their visit, you are showing compassion and empathy (which is the E step of CORE) for your husband’s distress. Some people are just not comfortable with large gatherings of people and he may be one of them. That doesn’t mean you cater entirely to his nature, but it does mean you show some concern and empathy for the distress he feels. See if he can come up with softer boundaries such as, “I would like our children to make sure that their children don’t take every book and toy off our shelves without putting the one’s they already played with back.” Or, “I need to get off by myself for a few hours each day and I don’t want to feel pressure to participate in every activity.” Or “I don’t want to babysit the grandkids every night when their parents go out to visit all their friends.”

You too may need to communicate some requests and/or boundaries to your adult children such as, “I will cook Christmas dinner but I need all of you to pitch in and plan meals for the week and take turns to cook them. I can’t do it all. 25 people is a lot of people to cook for and clean up after all week. Perhaps if you weren’t so pressured to get it all done, you would also feel less tense.

I think one of the most important lessons our adult children need to learn from us is that we are people and not just parents, not just givers, not just helpers or servers (Click to Tweet).

Your husband is a person and his wants needs and feelings need to be heard, especially in his own home. Therefore it would be healthier if he just said that to them rather than mumble sarcastic remarks under his breath.

Perhaps your adult children also need to prepare better for when they come to your house by instructing their children not to make huge messes, or to play outside more, or to not run in Grandma and Grandpa’s house because it upsets them. Teaching our children and grandchildren to be considerate of our needs and preferences is important as they mature. Sadly sometimes our kids or grandkids grow up not ever learning to think about anyone else’s needs but their own.

You have a few weeks before the chaos descends. You know the definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again hoping for different results. If you make a change and have a discussion with your husband and then with your adult children, perhaps this year can be less tense and more enjoyable for all.

Friends, when your house is filled with family for an extended gathering, do you talk ahead of time about boundaries and expectations? How do you do it? If you don’t, what is the result?


  1. JoAnn on November 30, 2016 at 11:37 am

    I really appreciate Leslie’s response. she is right on. It will be easier to express these boundaries if you put it in writing. That way, you won’t have to be afraid of their response, and you can take the time and effort to craft a carefully written letter. I had to do this with my children after I learned that two of them had not even cashed the gift checks I gave them six months after their anniversary, and never even thanked us for the checks. I feel like I am still teaching my adult children, now in their forties, how to be proper adults.

  2. rebecca on November 30, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    Sometimes women are so abused that the only time other people come into their home is for a holiday event. Isolation is a chief means of control. Healthy people can quickly pick up the abuse and dysfunction. This can be a lifeline for the victims.

    I believe that the hostess should not cover up for the abuser’s poor behavior. Let his difficult behavior “ruin” the holiday if necessary. It may be the wake up call the family needs to realize how terrible daily life is with an entitled manipulator and take action to remove him from the home.

    • Libl on November 30, 2016 at 7:16 pm

      There is nothing in the letter that indicates the husband is an abuser or that she is isolated.

      • Rebecca on November 30, 2016 at 11:18 pm

        “When we have family gatherings with our children and grandchildren, my husband gets extremely territorial when they all first arrive. He can be very rude and berating and sarcastic to get his point across and it’s very embarrassing to me. And makes me feel very uncomfortable.”

        This is the portion I was addressing. Did you see this portion? His behaviors are abusive.

        • Boo on October 27, 2022 at 9:36 am

          I think it would be wise that if he is so introverted (I would be the husband in this scenario as I am the intorvert and hate company and noise and it is overwhelming), to take turns who hosts the family during holidays. Can the adult children host in their homes alternating years? Dad may feel less defensive when its not HIS space thats turned upskde down and the adult children may be better at laying boundaries for the nieces and nephews during their stay if they have to tidy up in the end.
          Perhaps the kids can stay for a shorter duration or even get rooms, of budget allows,to mitigate some of the chaos. The adult children should remember how Dad was when they grew up and respect the parents home, even if the children are allowed more freedom in their homes. They can learn to be more tidy at Grandma and Grandpas place, just like school requires them to stand in line at lunch, but at home they do not.

          There is a lot of room for compromise here, aside from saying Grandpa is abusive for not liking chaos in his home. Ground rules should be set as sokn as they arrive about what is expected and allowed. Or maybe Grandma and Grandpa do the visiting instead of the hosting.

      • Robin on December 1, 2016 at 12:13 am

        Libl, I think I disagree. I believe her words described the behaviors of a abusive husband.

      • BubblesinMT on December 7, 2016 at 1:53 pm

        Before living with a controling man, I also would have missed the underlying message in the question. I agree with Robin and Rebecca. Isolation is HUGE in abuse and sometimes a HUGE DISRUPTION is what is required for others to reach out, stand up, speak up.
        That is not to disregard Leslie’s advice. Her suggestions are a good place to start.

  3. JoAnn on November 30, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    To Leslie,
    Congratulations on your new home. I know how daunting a move can be, especially at holiday time. When we moved, I committed to processing two boxes a day, start to finish. It worked. Not overwhelming, and before long, things began to look more normal. Good luck with all there is to do….one day at a time.
    Have a lovely Christmas.

  4. Sandra Lee on November 30, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    God bless you in you new home, dear Leslie! I’ve prayed for you, and thank Him for taking care of you. Just take one day at a time and enjoy being in your new home for Christmas.
    With love & prayers,

  5. Aleea on November 30, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    “Friends, when your house is filled with family for an extended gathering, do you talk ahead of time about boundaries and expectations? How do you do it? If you don’t, what is the result?”

    . . .No, I set no boundaries or expectations but I don’t have the volume that many of you have. Once you get to certain numbers, for certain amount of days, you have got to have a modicum of order. . . .Again, we had my sister and her children’s kids over on Thanksgiving and the two days after that. You know, there’s nothing more contagious than the laughter of young children; it doesn’t even matter what they’re laughing about. —You know what? . . . .Who knows what they are laughing about. I asked them many, many times during the days over and they don’t even know (—or would not tell me.) They laugh to the point of being incapacitated. Belly-shaking-tear-jerking-snot-producing laughing but it is great stuff because it gets me laughing hysterically too, as well as everyone else laughing along. I love to laugh, especially at myself. . . . but psychoanalytically, I don’t know if that is not cover (numbing) for something else? As everyone knows, there is often a rather fine line between laughing and crying. . . . .I think people are their most beautiful when they are laughing, playing, really and seriously telling the truth (—I love that!) . . . —Oh, and being chased in a fun way! . . . I don’t know what to say because Jesus simply did not go around really laughing at stuff. . . . .To me, laughter is a tangible evidence of hope. Kids go around laughing at everything, like even chairs and buses and just anything. . . Ha, ha, ha, ha. . . .What are they always laughing about? I have no idea. . . .When people laugh together, they tend to talk and touch more and to make eye contact more frequently. It is so easy to observe. —Think about what happens when we really, really laugh. Our defenses are down. It is a very Holy-Spirit-like moment. We are completely open, completely ourselves when that message hits the brain and the laugh begins. That’s when new ideas can be implanted. If a new idea slips in at that moment, it has a chance to grow. . . .

    Anyways, thank you so much Leslie, good thoughts for this time of year and answered prayer that your move went well.

  6. Ann L on November 30, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    My family is filled with people who need quiet time. We don’t set boundaries, but we respect boundaries. So when someone disappears for an hour, or retreats to a quiet room and a book, or doesn’t converse, we don’t get upset. We simply recognize that they’ve put themselves in time-out. 🙂

    I almost never hang out in the midst of it. One year I brought a sewing project and grandkids took turns visiting me in a sewing corner and helping out. This year, grandkids asked me to play board games with them. It’s sort of like holding court, lol.

    We have holiday gatherings at my daughter’s house. We parents kick in food, cooking, and help with cleaning up. It’s a process that has developed over the past 10 years while we all figured out how to be adults instead parents and children.

    The only remaining issue is that my (soon to be ex-husband) will still jump in on political conversations. Happily, our sons have learned to not respond, and I think we’re all coming to the conclusion that this is a habit that the man will either not outgrow or will worsen with age. Which is sad, because it indicates that he’s not self-aware enough to adjust.

    We have an advantage because we are within a day’s travel, so there are no week-long gatherings under one roof. We wouldn’t do that — as people, we just aren’t wired for it. Not good, not bad, just is what it is.

  7. Carolee on November 30, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    I’ve been praying for you Leslie asking our Lord to not let you get overwhelmed by this move. May you enjoy the new home and new state! So glad for you that you are near your family. Thank you again for this wise counsel. Blessings!! May your Christmas be very merry and happy!!

  8. Robin on December 1, 2016 at 12:08 am

    I think boundaries are important and esp when you are entertaining 25 people in your home for the week. But the words she used to describe her husband sounded destructive, and I personally would talk to him first as it sounds like he gives her no support and expects others to accommodate his every desire. If he was unwilling and chose not to act like a healthy partner over the holidays, then it might be even more important to him all to the relatives and set up some simple rules/boundaries ahead of time. But I mostly felt empathy for her lack of support that she didn’t receive from her husband. I am divorced now but my exhusband always made holidays miserable. He wanted his privacy and angered easilyvwhen others showed up. It didn’t matter how hard I tried to be a good hostess, he only met his own needs. If I was to do it today after having years of counseling- I would suggest we do it at someone else’s house to take the stress off of me and my children. That way the angry husband could go home and pout if he couldn’t be more agreeable.

    • JoAnn on December 2, 2016 at 3:26 pm

      I like what you offered, Robin. Why not set it up at someone else’s home? Or not have them for the whole week? It’s ok to say, “It’s too much. We need to do things differently.” As I get older, (70 in March) I have learned to accept my new limitations and to allow my family to do more. At Thanksgiving, with 14 adults around the table, my husband announced that since I had spent two days getting this all ready, he wanted me to sit in the living room and let the others do the clean up. God bless him! I realize that an abusive husband would never do this, but the wife has every right to say the same thing. “I’m tired, and I will sit and play a game with the children while everyone else does the clean-up.”

  9. Mara on December 1, 2016 at 12:22 am

    I have appreciated you ever since the first time I came to you. You were such a help to me and I knew if I needed you, you would see me. That was a comfort. I have not kept up on all your writings and am surprised that you have moved. I am happy for you as I know how wonderful it is to have your children near by. God has used you and will continue to use you. I am sure God loves Arizona as much as Pennsylvania.

  10. James on December 1, 2016 at 9:19 am

    A very good article.

    I think more couples should sit down and discuss what the holidays will look like concerning family. In too many instances, the adult children simply assume that they will be staying over and the grandparents simply assume they are coming.

    Having a conversation where they can both agree on the boundaries that they are going to communicate and enforce gives him some say in what will be going on in his home and then also leaves his without cause for grumbling.

  11. Hope on December 2, 2016 at 7:06 am

    I don’t like that the husband gets blamed in the title of this blog. But thankfully that didn’t keep me from reading it.
    Most of us struggle with family boundaries. This is what makes the holidays so tough. Some of us are able to do what this article recommends, have a mature conversation ahead of time where boundaries are discussed. However, I understand that most dysfunctional relationships are this way because respectful conversations about boundaries can’t take place. One of the members silences or sabotages it.
    So what can you do? You can be a thoughtful guest by helping and getting your children to. Or be a gracious host by asking kindly for help from those you can get it from ahead of time. Be mindful of your own limits. When you feel that you’ve had enough go out for a walk (if they are overnight guests) or sweetly say, “It’s been wonderful to see you and have you.”
    I hope this helps to make the season a little brighter for you.

    • James on December 2, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      Being Mindful of your own limits is very important. Good point.

  12. Wendy on December 2, 2016 at 10:54 am

    We all see things through our own experiences and understanding of the life that we have lived. My concern would be where this obsession is coming from. My ex-husband was obsessive of me and I was an object to him. He did not have a good relationship with our daughter because he was jealous of my time with her. He was jealous of the laughter and the fun that we would have. He was jealous of the times we would sing together, go to church together and seem to just enjoy life. Any special event that involved her he would become obsessive over. I am not saying that this is what is happening I can only bring my experience to this conversation.
    God bless you and your new home Leslie! Have a very merry Christmas close to your family.

    • Robin on December 2, 2016 at 6:11 pm

      Wendy, that’s wonderful you didn’t let your exhusband destroy your relationship with your daughter!!
      I’m happy for you.

  13. Caroline Abbott on December 6, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    I love love love your suggestions for Holiday boundaries! I also drive myself crazy year after year. This year I decided NO MORE! I hate putting up Christmas decorations, so instead of decorating the entire house, I only put up the tree, the one thing I really enjoy. I have adult daughters who come in with their families and stay, and often don’t lift a finger to help with the cooking or cleaning. This year, I am writing them a letter in advance asking them to each cook one dinner while they are here. I am looking forward to the holidays now! I will share with my readers!

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