When you marry, your family grows–sometimes exponentially. An expanding family means that suddenly, you and your spouse might have many more holiday obligations than you can realistically commit to. If this happens, how do you decide who to visit during the holidays?
Conflicts over who to visit during the holiday season are common among couples, especially newlyweds who are trying to create balance. Navigating and negotiating holiday visits can be stressful, so it’s important to approach the subject gently. You love one another and want to build new traditions for the family you’re creating. But, you also love celebrating your own family’s long-held traditions.
For most families, the holidays are a heartfelt time full of nostalgia and memory-making. We tend to be very emotional about keeping our traditions. But when you marry, there may come a time when you have to choose between your family’s holiday gatherings and your spouse’s. So what do you do?
Start Negotiating in Advance
You and your spouse will need to start discussing and negotiating your holiday plans early on. Don’t wait until Thanksgiving or Christmas rolls around before you decide how you’re going to space out your visits. Instead, start planning well in advance, and ask yourselves these questions:
- Do we live close enough to visit both our families every year?
- If not, will we visit on alternating years or rotate holidays?
- How long will we stay with my family? My spouse’s?
- If our agreed-upon rotation gets disrupted, how will we handle it?
A successful holiday negotiation all comes down to compromise. That means establishing a healthy give-and-take and understanding what’s going to make your spouse feel loved and cared for. Showing empathy for their cherished holiday traditions is one way to do so; another is to make sure your spouse feels included in your family.
Work to Help Your Spouse Feel Included
If you’re unable to visit both sides of the family during the holidays, your spouse may understandably feel sad that they’re missing out on events that are important to them. Knowing this, you’ll need to make sure your spouse doesn’t feel sidelined or left out of the family activities you’re accustomed to. Don’t fall so comfortably into your family’s usual rhythm that you forget to loop your spouse in.
When you visit your family during the holidays, help your spouse to feel welcomed and included. You’ll need to work on your spouse’s behalf and be proactive about incorporating them into your family’s activities and interactions. Ask your family to help you make your spouse feel welcome, too–but don’t solely rely on them to make it happen. It’s your responsibility to take the lead.
Acknowledge Any Disappointment You May Feel
Beginning this new chapter in your life means that you and your spouse may both experience a sense of loss. While being newly married is exciting and fun, it’s also a time of drastic change. You’ll both need to recognize that the two of you could go through times of sadness as you adjust to new traditions.
Practice empathy toward one another, understanding that one or both of you might be feeling sad because you’re not spending the holidays with your family. Own how you feel and don’t pretend like nothing is wrong. It’s best to be honest with yourselves and each other so you can adjust your routines until you find what works best for both of you.
Find Other Meaningful Ways to Connect With Family
If you choose not to physically travel to visit one side of the family during the holidays, that doesn’t mean you can’t connect with loved ones. Schedule video calls so you can get some time face-to-face. And if you have kids, get them involved, too! They’ll love getting that face-time with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Make Sure Your Holiday Disagreements Are Good Fights
Disagreements about the holidays can quickly become messy and upsetting. We recommend learning how to fight a “good fight” so you can turn your arguments into productive exchanges for the good of your marriage. Our book, The Good Fight, lays the basic groundwork of how to make this happen. You can get a copy here.
Do you and your spouse have holiday visits figured out? Why or why not? If you do, how did you come to an agreement? Let us know in the comments.