Three Tips to Help Couples Cope with a Holiday

March 31, 2017

Ahh, the holidays. A time for family and friends, honoring traditions, feasting, maybe some gift-giving and (hopefully) good cheer. For many couples – especially new couples – holidays can also be a time of stress when a fight can flare up for seemingly no reason at all.

As a family lawyer, I’ve heard countless stories about what prompted a couple’s first fight, and all too often, it was over where to spend the holidays. The holidays are such a fertile ground for fights – serious fights. Fights that are remembered for decades and which sometimes are the beginning of the end of a relationship.

Learning to navigate the holidays is a necessary relationship skill. An easy solution lies in the one courts use when couples are divorcing and decisions must be made about where the children will spend the holidays. Judges frequently alternate either the entire holiday season year by year, or else alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The same “negotiated peace” can be used by a happy couple who wants to stay happy.

However, once you have divided the holidays, the real challenge starts. Here are three tips to help couples cope.

The best way to start out in someone else’s holiday traditions is slowly. Try to get hints from your loved one about what really matters in their family. Is a focus on cooking or a cookout required? Are softball games, tennis or touch football important? Whatever it is, try to go along and keep any criticism to yourself.

Be a good cheerleader. Even if snowmobiling and softball are not your thing, or board games have been a long-standing joke in your own family, adjust to the fact that your beloved’s family traditions may seem foreign and unappealing. Thanksgiving for them can be all about televised sports and cocktails, and only a little about dining. You may have always opened presents one by one on Christmas morning, and they tear everything apart on Christmas Eve. Easter may mean an egg hunt, which you think is a bit silly.

Be respectful of the other’s religious and secular issues. The other family may focus  on Advent wreaths, the Nativity, and the true gifts of Christmas, while you, candidly, are more comfortable at the Mall. Conversely, Christmas may not be Christmas to you without Midnight Mass, yet you find yourself going alone, leaving behind your spouse who is overflowing with the other kind of Christmas “spirits.” Easter to them may mean church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Problems can arise if you trample on long-standing traditions.

The best solution to getting through any holiday as a couple is to take a deep breath, hold tight to each other’s hand and go along for whatever is their family’s version of the holiday story. Next year he or she may be more willing to do the same for you.

Allen, Glassman & Schatz, LLC