Handling the Holidays
by Kat Richter

Lego guy sneaking into his girlfriend's room at night.

Holidays can be stressful, and if you're in a new relationship, you may find yourself caught in a tug-of-war. Should you invite your partner to join your family for Thanksgiving dinner? Or should you ditch your folks and spend Thanksgiving with the future in-laws? Do you spend Christmas Eve with your partner? Or should you spend it with your grandparents and join your partner for New Year's Eve?

No matter how your family celebrates, there's bound to be tension. And if you make the wrong choice, there's a good chance you'll end up offending the people you love. Fortunately, there are holidays aplenty this time of year. With a little planning ahead and some flexibility on both your parts, you just might make it to January 1st without losing your mind.

Talk it over

First things first: talk to your partner about his or her family's holidays traditions. Do they look forward to Thanksgiving with their entire extended family or are they hoping for an excuse to opt out this year? Do Christmas Eve services matter to them or are they more into holiday shopping and office parties?

Oftentimes, holiday-related arguments are the direct result of miscommunication. For example, if your partner doesn't tell you that this Thanksgiving is particularly important because his long lost aunt is coming home after two years with the Peace Corps, how are you supposed to know?   Be honest about what matters to you and try to understand and respect what matters to your partner.

Warn your family

If your relationship is getting serious and you realize that there's a chance you may end up spending the holidays with your partner's family instead of your own, let them know. And don't wait until the last minute. Be prepared for them to be disappointed, hurt or even angry - they love you too, after all - and try to offer some compromises.

Let's say, for example, that your mother is going to have a conniption when you tell her that you've been invited to your partner's home for Thanksgiving. How is she going to cook dinner without your help? What is she going to tell your aunts and uncles? Well, maybe you can give your mother a hand with the apple pies the day before. Or, you can do dinner with your partner's family and dessert with yours. There's a good chance you'll end up spending more time on the road than actually celebrating, but an extra hour or two in the car is well worth it if it keeps everyone happy.

Negotiate

We've said it before and we've said it again: compromise is key. Between Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, the Winter Solstice, New Years Eve and New Years Day, there are plenty of holidays to go around. Chances are you and family celebrate at least two or three of these so parcel it out.

If you decide spend Christmas Eve with your partner's parents, celebrate Christmas Day with yours. Or, spend Thanksgiving apart but New Years Eve together.

You can also try setting up some alternate celebrations to keep the peace. My parents, for example, made the decision to start celebrating Thanksgiving on Black Friday to accommodate my dad's work schedule. This makes the holiday weekend a lot easier: I'm spending Thanksgiving with my partner's family this year and he's spending Black Friday with mine.

Mind your manners

In the event that you're invited to spend part of the holidays with your partner's family, take the opportunity to make a good impression. Ask if there is something you can bring, and offer to help set the table or do the dishes. Even if your partner tells you not to bring anything, purchase a bottle of wine or bring a bouquet of fresh flowers.

Be sure to say "thank you" afterward (even if you hated the food), and if you really want to impress your future in-laws, send a hand-written thank you note.

Special arrangements

If your holiday plans include an overnight visit, keep in mind that you'll need to respect the "house rules." You and your partner may share a room in the privacy of your own homes but in front of your 83-year old grandmother? Not such a good idea.

Consider spending the night in separate bedrooms to avoid offending elderly relatives. (And if you can't resist the urge to sneak into your partner's room after everyone has gone to sleep, pretend you're back in high school: keep the noise down and don't forget to sneak back to your bedroom before everyone wakes up!)

Also, be sure to discuss any special dietary needs but don't expect your hosts to change their entire menu simply to accommodate your preference of tofurkey. If you're hosting, try to make sure you have plenty of side dishes but if you're the one being hosted, be polite and grab a snack on the way if diet requires vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free options.

Alone time

Last but not least, schedule some alone time for you and your partner. Between the travel plans, the meals, the relatives, the sleeping arrangements and the scheduling, there's a good chance you'll both end up feeling a little overwhelmed. So take a walk after dinner, or arrange to exchange a few personal holiday gifts in private. By taking some time to focus on your relationship, you'll be better equipped to cope with all of the other demands on your time.

Homework

  • Ask your partner to share some of his or her favorite holiday traditions. This will give you insight into what's important to them around the holidays.
  • Make a list of priorities: would you rather concede Christmas Day in order to spend New Year's Eve with your date or vice versa?
  • Think outside the box. You can't split yourself in two but you can split some holidays into two components. Talk about spending part of the time with your partner and part of the time with your family.
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