The Holiday Tug of War in Marriage

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For many married couples, the decision of where to go and what to do during the holidays is a tough one. Should you go to your family's home, or their family's home, or stay home, or escape to Tahiti?

It is very important for you as a couple to create your own traditions for the holidays. As the holiday season approaches, talk honestly with one another about your expectations, hopes, and fears.

One Couple's Holiday Tug of War Story

Jim and Rachel had been making a 300-mile trip every year, regardless of the horrid weather conditions, so they could spend the holidays with her parents. It created a lot of stress on Jim, who really resented and feared the drive. The kids were unhappy because they couldn't participate in their hometown holiday pageant. Furthermore, Rachel felt guilty because everyone seemed so unhappy during the holidays.

One year, the weather was just too nasty to make the drive. Rachel's parents were disappointed, but understood, and put the safety of their kids and grandkids first. Although it was a last minute decision, the girls were able to find some angel wings and be part of the holiday pageant. The family celebrated a quiet Christmas at home. They were amazed at how much they enjoyed their time together that holiday.

As the next holiday season approached, Jim and Rachel talked about their plans in advance. Together they decided to tell her parents that they would not be making the drive again during this time around. They learned that for many people, the holiday season lasts until February 2nd (Candlemas Day) and that they had lots of time for a visit with Rachel's family.

Parents Who Put Adult Children First During the Holidays

Charles and Marcy made a joint decision a few years ago to avoid being together on Christmas with their adult kids. They both visit all their grown kids on a regular basis and they have a family reunion every summer. They decided that they all needed to just stay home during the holidays. It has turned out to be a good decision for all of them.

Other grandparents make a point of telling all their adult children that their only expectation of them during the holidays is to let them know their plans so that they know how many people to feed. As a result, some holidays they have the whole crew with them, including an assortment of friends who drop in for a few days, too. Other holidays, they are by themselves. The children know it is okay either way.

Talk with Each Other About Holiday Expectations

If you do decide to visit extended family, talk with one another about your expectations of the visit. Try to anticipate where some problem areas might arise. Make some strategic plans for handling these potential hot spots.

More Ways to De-stress the Holidays

  • Celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas.​​
  • Rent a hotel room close by so you have a place to escape.
  • Develop a secret code between the two of you which means "GET ME OUT OF HERE, NOW!"
  • If there are some family traditions you absolutely hate, share those thoughts with your spouse.
  • Plan some non-competitive family games to play.
  • Schedule some "field trips" to nearby attractions to break the routine or boredom.
  • Don't allow yourself to fall into the childhood role with your parents just because you are back home. You are not seven years old anymore!

The holidays do not have to be a time of stress and a feeling of being in a tug of war. Talk it out! You should always make a decision that is best for the two of you and your children.