Holiday Family Survival Guide

couple traveling smallWhether your relationship is old or new, spending the holiday season with your partner’s family — or inviting them to spend theirs with yours — can be stressful.

From figuring out how to divide the time to dealing with cruel and unusual family traditions, the holidays can tax even the healthiest relationships.

Who’s Family Do You Spend Time With?

Deciding where to pass the festive season is always contentious. Both families want their son or daughter at home, but you two want to spend the holidays together. The inter-familial war to lure you home ranges from bribery (“We bought your favorite cherry Danishes”) to threats (“Oh well, I guess we don’t need to exchange presents this year since you’re not coming home.”)

To avoid the tug-of-war, decide how to deal with the situation together and ahead of time, before your families enter the fray.

Solutions include alternating between holidays each year, splitting up the days (your family gets us December 24th and the next morning, and my family gets that afternoon and December 26) or, if you have small families, all taking a vacation together.

Great Expectations

Holiday hopes can vary widely between partners. Families strive to recreate the perfect holiday seasons of their youth, when all was well in the world and they felt happy, safe and content. For many men, especially, this means mom tending to every whim while they enjoy a relaxing holiday.

Speaking from experience, this is especially true of only children. It’s great for him but not so great for his partner, who often ends up feeling obliged to help out in the kitchen with mom while he’s on the couch playing with his new Wii.

Be aware of situations like this and don’t abandon your love to the vagaries of family dynamics. Remember that being with a new family can be awkward. They’re trying hard to fit in and so may not want to raise a fuss, but they too deserve to have fun and chill out.

Take a Time Out

Too much family time can be draining. Imagine how your partner feels? Make some moments to be alone together during your stay. This can include going out for drinks at the local bar, going for walks or going to a movie. The break will be good for everyone and dissipate any possible developing tensions.

If you’re worried about spending so much time with the family, consider staying in a hotel. As an added bonus, you avoid the issue of sleeping arrangements. (In my case, this used to entail lying on a basement pullout couch that was more steel bars than mattress until everyone fell asleep and my girlfriend could slip downstairs from her bedroom for a few hours together.)

That’s Not How We Do It

I guarantee that your families will each do things a little differently. Although your traditions are (of course) best, try embracing your partner’s as well. If you’re open to them, new traditions make the holidays more interesting.

After all, wasn’t it your love’s quirky personality traits that attracted you in the first place? Why shouldn’t sitting around the table after dinner singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” while wearing animal noses or using old pantyhose as stockings fall into the same category? (I’m serious about those last two and I did learn to love them.)

Don’t Be a Holiday Hold Out

Let’s face it: learning to enjoy your partner’s family traditions and quirks is not an option. If you’re in it for the long-term you’ll have to deal with these holiday issues eventually, so there’s no time like the present.

You might even find yourself adding some fun new traditions to your repertoire… although I don’t recommend the pantyhose stockings.

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By Brent Turnbull

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