Well, the wedding is over. You and your spouse have returned from your honeymoon in the Caribbean or Branson, Missouri or where ever you spent your first days of wedded bliss. Walking through the store on your weekly grocery trip you begin to see all of the displays of holiday decorations. You think, “Oh how exciting! Won’t our first Christmas together be so special?!” And then out of the blue a thought hits you like a cold chill. “We haven’t decided where we are going to spend the Holidays!” Maybe the realization comes when Mom calls and tells you she’s so excited to have you visit during Christmas. Maybe it’s when your spouse tells you his plans to take off early so you can drive to his parents’ house three states over. Whenever it hits you, you realize “This is not going to be an easy decision…”
One of the first dilemmas that a newly married couple encounters is the decision about where to spend the holidays. His family or Her family? Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries are typically times for family tradition and good memories. However, Thanksgiving and Christmas (or Hanukah or Kwanza) tend to have more of an emotional connection for each spouse as well as both sets of in-laws, therefore making this decision much more difficult.
Because of this emotional connection, the dilemma can be a source of conflict for a newlywed couple. However, with a little proactive planning, a couple can avoid conflict, maintain positive relationships with both families and continue to build new happy holiday memories. By the way, if you or someone you know is currently engaged, this would be an excellent topic of discussion during pre-marital preparation sessions.
Please begin this discussion with a few key understandings and assumptions. First, this is usually not an easy decision. You will need to take deliberate measures to avoid conflict regarding this issue. Second, remember that your spouse likely considers his/her family traditions as just as special as you do your own family’s traditions. Third, you and your spouse need to plan as a team. You will be tempted to side with your parents/family during this time, but avoid that temptation at all costs. And fourth, there’s always next year and many after that. Plans made this year can, and likely will, be altered for future holidays.
Let’s look at some “Do’s and Do not’s” to keep in mind when discussing this topic as a couple.
– DO NOT Criticize your spouse’s parents or other family members.
– DO NOT Criticize your spouse’s family traditions.
– DO NOT Make plans or promises with your family before talking with your spouse.
– DO NOT Blame your spouse if you decide together that you will not spend the holiday with your family.
– DO NOT Tell your family that your spouse refuses to spend the holiday with them or insists on spending the holiday with his/her family instead.
– DO Make plans for the holidays as far in advance as possible.
– DO Speak to your spouse respectfully.
– DO Use “I” statements as you share your ideas and tell your spouse about the special traditions that your family has.
– DO Listen to your spouse with openness. Your number one goal during this discussion should be to understand your spouse’s point of view rather than winning and getting your way.
– DO Tell your family your plans for the holidays assertively as a team. Assure them that you understand if they are disappointed. Let them know of any plans to alternate homes in the future so that they have something to look forward to.
Again, this decision may not be an easy one. (Did I mention that already?) Some factors to consider are:
How far do your families live from you?
How far do your families live from each other?
Do your families consider one holiday more special than the other? (for example, Is Thanksgiving celebrated more than Christmas? Does one family celebrate on Christmas Eve and the other Christmas Day? Etc.)
Are there extenuating circumstances, such as the death of one parent, or the return of a family member from military service that may influence your decision?
Above all, BE FLEXIBLE. One exercise that is incredibly helpful is brainstorming. Sit down with your spouse and write down as many options for dealing with the holiday dilemma as possible. Here are a few important rules for effective brainstorming:
- Make it fun. Write down even the wildest ideas. You never know, those wild ideas may be something to build from later.
- Suspend Judgment. Do not criticize any idea, no matter how unlikely. Remember, have fun and be flexible.
- The brainstorming session should be a short discussion. Just write each idea down and move to the next idea. You’ll come back to review the list later.
- Once your list of ideas is complete, discuss and expand on the best ideas.
Here are a few ideas just to get you started on your brainstorming activity.
- Alternate holidays. Visit one family for Thanksgiving and the other for Christmas this year. Then switch for next year.
- Spend Christmas Eve with one family and Christmas Day with the other.
- Have both families over to your house for Thanksgiving and alternate Christmas
- Begin your own tradition and go to the Bahamas for Christmas.
After the brainstorming session, decide together which approach will work best for you and your spouse. Then, share your decision with your families as soon as possible. Be assertive when informing them of your decision. Take the time to express understanding if your family has disappointment about your plans. If you follow these tips, you will be able to avoid conflict in this area this year as well as years to come.