While cheerful holiday decor and advertisements galore paint the holidays as a totally stress-free, warm & fuzzy time of year, we know that’s not always the case. Holiday planning and celebrations can bring familial tensions to the surface, and it can be hard to stay present and joyfull with all of these dynamics buzzing about. To help things go a little more smoothly this year, I’ve compiled some of my top tips for couples as we head into the holiday season.
Keep reading to discover my tips for stress-free holiday planning, handling in-law conflict, and making the most out of each and every gathering you attend this holiday season.
Avoid Unnecessary Arguments Around Logistics
One of the first pulls of tension around the holiday season centers at the question: where do we go for the holidays? It’s absolutely normal for each partner to favor their side of the family, but compromise is essential to making sure each partner is being respected. When we make a conscious effort to treat each side of the family equally, we’re less likely to feel resentment or anger towards our partner or partner’s family this time of year.
While this is absolutely a case by case basis (family dynamics can be COMPLICATED), many couples find success in creating a fair system for deciding which side attend for the holidays so people’s feelings are less likely to get hurt. For example, one of the easiest ways to plan for the holidays is to alternate which side you see for a particular gathering each year—if you went to your partner’s family’s side last year for Thanksgiving, you’ll go to your family’s this year.
Regardless of where you and your partner decide to go, it can also be helpful to let your extended family know about your plan well in advance. Families are notorious for waiting until the last minute to make final plans, so if you tell them a couple months prior which side you’ll be celebrating with, this will help them plan accordingly and leave you out of the conflict.
When There’s Tension With The In-Laws
It’s a tale as old as time: In-law drama!! We’ve all been there in some capacity, and truly, it’s just part of life. But there are some tangible ways to make this conflict dissipate to some extent, and it begins with communication between you and your partner.
Picture this: Your mother in law makes a comment about how you’re raising the kids and says you should do things differently. You feel hurt, almost guilty, and then… angry. You think to yourself, How can she treat me like that? Why does she always think she’s right?
Instead of firing back, simply ignore hurtful comments and move past them in the moment. Arguing back only gives argumentative people more ammunition! Address your concerns with your partner when the two of you have time alone. Express to him how his mother’s comments hurt you. In some cases, it is appropriate for your partner to respond to his mother’s behavior by addressing it with her privately. But in any case, keeping these feelings to yourself won’t fix anything and will leave you feeling isolated and upset.
It’s important to remember that when someone talks down to you, is judgemental or acts rudely, they’re projecting their own insecurities, baggage or bitterness onto you. In most cases, there isn’t much you can do to “fix” the in-law that is treating you poorly, because it’s not your issue to fix! You only have control over how you respond, and you’d be surprised at how good it can feel to be the bigger person and ignore negative behavior.
Making The Most Out of Your Time Together
Staying present and accessible to family members at holiday gatherings can go a long way in making them more enjoyable for you and everyone attending. Whether it’s a multiple day gathering or all-day affair, keep yourself in close proximity to the group so that you’re still able to hop in and out of conversations naturally. People will feel more comfortable and responsive to you when you’re keeping yourself open to them!
Another helpful tip is to bring an activity that people can join easily. Puzzles are one of the best options because people can come and go as they please, but the puzzle serves as a low-key unifier for larger groups. If there are lots of kids in the family, consider bringing a game like Jenga or even card games to bring people together.
Lastly, put things into perspective! No matter where you’re spending the holidays, remember that your time with those you choose to be with is precious. If we can shift our perspective to treat each gathering, no matter how big or small, with care and joy, we’ll be that much more present throughout the holiday season.