As the temperatures begin to drop and the sun seems to set earlier and earlier by the day, there’s no denying that fall has arrived. Between enjoying sweatshirt-weather, apple cider and hayrides, it’s easy to allow ourselves to succumb to the slightly slower pace and comfortable feeling of the new season. For some, fall can mean the “calm before the storm” of the holiday season that may seem far off, but is approaching us in a couple of short months. While the holidays are a time of celebration and an opportunity to spend time with the ones we love, they can also be a source of great stress in many couple and family relationships.
Whether you’re newly dating or have been married for many years, the holidays can naturally bring up difficult questions such as: Whose family will we celebrate with at what time? What do we do if their celebrations overlap? Can we afford to travel to different places? How much are we comfortable spending on gifts for each other and for loved ones? Our family tree is changing – how can we help our new members feel welcome? We come from different religions – how can we incorporate both into our celebration? Often, the most difficult part about these dilemmas is that they can go unspoken. As each partner has grown up in different families of origin, holidays and related traditions may have occurred in very specific ways that mean a great deal to each person. Each partner may then naturally expect to continue those traditions and to spend the holidays as they are accustomed to in their own families, and may not communicate those expectations directly to their partner. In couples that have been together longer, a system may have been worked out as far as how to handle the holidays. However, each partner may still miss certain aspects of how they used to celebrate with their family.
The best way to navigate these dilemmas in order to ensure that both partners can enjoy a meaningful holiday season is to talk about your expectations with one another. For example, it can be helpful to take some time individually to think of memories from the holidays that were special to you. Then, take some time to share these stories with your partner and talk about why they are meaningful to you, as well as which traditions you would like to keep in your life together. It might also be fun to start some new traditions for your own family. If one or more of your extended families live far away, consider whether you would be willing to switch off every other year, etc. Having a discussion with your partner now, before the holidays creep, up can allow you both the freedom to openly share what you need and to come to an agreement without the pressure that the busy holiday season can sometimes bring.
The same can go for conversations that you have with other family members about holiday celebrations. Some families traditionally find joy in giving each other wonderful (sometimes fairly expensive) gifts, and some have a tradition of one family member hosting each year and providing a special meal. While these traditions can be wonderful and accepted by all family members, there are times that certain family members may feel uncomfortable. For example, if you’re having a hard time financially this year, it might be helpful for you to talk with your family about potentially lowering the amount of money you spend on gifts and emphasize the importance of togetherness instead. Or, if you notice that your host is overwhelmed with other life commitments (perhaps, taking care of an ill family member), you might ask your host if you can help put together the celebration or ask if they would like you to host this year to ease their burden.
It may take some time to become accustomed to changes in your holiday routine. After all, spending the holidays with loved ones can be some of our most fond memories, and having different experiences may be difficult at first. The most important thing is that you are open with your partner and with your family members about what you hope you can do together this holiday season, make some compromises, and then enjoy your time together. After all, that’s what the holidays are all about: each other!
Lindsey Hoskins & Associates provides individual, couple, and family therapy in downtown Bethesda, MD. Call us at (301) 200-5290 to schedule an appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation.