Ahh, the holidays. A time for family and friends, honoring traditions, feasting, gift-giving and (hopefully) good cheer. For many couples – especially new couples – they can also be a time of stress, when a fight can flare up for seemingly no reason at all.
As a family lawyer, I’ve heard countless stories about what prompted a couple’s first fight, and all too often, it was over where to spend the holidays. The holidays are such a fertile ground for fights – serious fights. Fights that are remembered for decades and which sometimes are the beginning of the end of a relationship.
Learning to navigate the holidays as a couple is a necessary relationship skill. An easy solution lies in the one courts use when couples are divorcing and decisions must be made about where the children will spend the holidays. Judges frequently alternate either the entire holiday season year by year, or else alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The same ‘negotiated peace’ can be used by a happy couple who wants to stay happy.
However, once you have divided the holidays, the real challenge starts. Here are three tips to help couples cope.
- The best way to start out in someone else’s holiday traditions is slowly. Try to get hints from your beloved about what really matters in their family. Is caroling or cooking required? Are touch football challenges or cross-country skiing part of the routine? Do you need to dress to cut down your own tree, or will you be dining at The Club in a little black dress with no thought of leftovers? Whatever it is, try to keep any criticism to yourself.
- Be a good cheerleader. Even if snowmobiling is not your thing, or board games have been a long-standing joke in your own family, adjust to the fact that your beloved’s family traditions may seem foreign and unappealing. Thanksgiving for them can be all about televised sports and cocktails, and only a little about dining. You may have always opened presents one by one on Christmas morning, and they tear everything apart on Christmas Eve. They may spend the majority of the holidays in sweats while your family has dressed casual elegant even for breakfast.
- Be respectful of the other’s religious and secular issues. They may focus on Advent wreaths, the Nativity, and the true gifts of Christmas, while you, candidly, are more comfortable at the Mall. Conversely, Christmas may not be Christmas to you without Midnight Mass, yet you find yourself going alone, leaving behind your spouse who is overflowing with the other kind of Christmas “spirits.” If your beloved is from a tradition for whom Christmas has no religious significance, prepare for Chinese food and a Christmas Day movie. Problems can arise if you trample on long-standing traditions.
The best solution to getting through the holidays as a couple is to take a deep breath, hold tight to each other’s hand and go along for whatever is their family’s version of the holiday story. Next year he or she may be more willing to do the same for you.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net