With Thanksgiving around the corner and the big holiday season right on its tail, deciding out how and, more importantly, with whom you're celebrating is something all couples have to figure out STAT. A daunting task? Of course! Even if you've been married for years, and your family's agenda is practically set in stone, the anticipated stress of spending time with relatives you're not wild about may very well still be a point of contention with your spouse.
Thankfully, certain strategies can help you figure out what will work best for you both. "Creating a holiday schedule that works does require communication and compromise," says Talia Wagner, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. "[But] planning ahead allows couples to take both sets of families into consideration."
We asked experts like Wagner to share what they advise couples who are struggling to get on the same page with their holiday plans. Bet most married couples could learn a thing or two!
1. Be reasonable. Putting yourself in your spouse's shoes and thinking what would make them more comfortable may be one way to come up with a plan that is manageable for you both. "For example, if your spouse usually avoids family gatherings because of a distaste for a brother-in-law, or a visit from your mother-in-law sends you into panic mode, have reasonable expectations about the length of time the holiday get-together should last," recommends Dr. Julie Gowthorpe, psychotherapist and author of Tainted Love. "If one side of the family lives out of state, it may be beneficial to book a hotel room for at least part of the visit. Shorter visits are likely to be more successful, while prolonged times may grate on one’s tolerance level."
2. Lay your cards on the table. If you're concerned about a toxic situation arising with certain family members (e.g., you're nervous your father-in-law will make critical remarks or your husband is sure your mother is going to interrupt everyone at dinner), it's better to spell out in detail what exactly you're worried about and how you want your partner to respond if those fears do come to fruition, advises Dr. Jeanette Raymond, psychologist and the author of Now You Want Me, Now You Don't! Fear of Intimacy. "Set time to discuss each person's expectations of the other in a specific set of situations," she says. "Discuss the feelings each is anticipating when the situation arises and whether those expectations are valid."
3. Consider getting creative with timing. While we all tend to think of combining both sides of the family (a la movies like Christmas Vacation and Home Alone, etc.) as the ultimate way for everyone to be happy, that's not always possible or comfortable for everyone involved. For that reason, Gowthorpe advises that couples consider rotating on a yearly basis between families. "Or, for couples who live close to one family, the closer family may offer some flexibility around the date of their gathering," she explains. "Extended weekends may be used to visit the family that is out of state or more logistically difficult to get together with."
More from CafeMom: 5 Ways to Get Along Better With Your Mother-in-Law
4. Don't let planning become a battle to be won. "The key to developing a holiday plan that works for everyone is approaching the situation as a mutual issue that needs to be solved rather than a point of division," explains Gowthorpe.
Furthermore, working toward a compromise as a couple over holiday plans can actually make your marriage stronger. "While managing holiday time may require one person to demonstrate more flexibility than the other, it is also an opportunity for the couple to build problem-solving skills that are essential year-round for healthy, balanced relationships," Gowthorpe says.
5. Do your best to put negativity on the backburner. Whether you have ongoing issues with your mother-in-law or that family friend who always comes to Christmas Eve dinner, it's best to approach the holiday like a whole different ball game. "Whatever your personal feelings may be, it is something you can compartmentalize for these family events," explains Wagner. "Respecting your spouse’s family, just for being their family, is elementary and necessary."
In fact, Wagner notes that a mistake couples often make is failing to "accept and understand that in marrying another, their family becomes our family. Even relationships that start off rocky can become meaningful and important, but it is up to us what we make of them."
That said, you may be positive you don't want to build on a rocky relationship with an in-law or other family member you clash with. Still, try to go with the flow out of respect for your spouse. If they push your buttons, "it is always a choice whether to engage."
How do you and your spouse figure out where -- and with whom -- you're spending the holidays?
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