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Holiday Tug of War in Marriage

Putting Your Marriage First During the Holidays


Photo: George Doyle / Getty Images
Photo: George Doyle / Getty Images

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 his family's home, or her 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 & Rose had been making a 300 mile trip every year, regardless of the horrid weather conditions, so they could spend Christmas 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 own church's Christmas pageant, and Rose felt guilty because everyone seemed so unhappy during the holidays.

One year, the weather was just too nasty to make the drive. Rose's parents were disappointed, but understood and put the safety of their grand kids first. Although it was a last minute decision, the girls were able to find some angel wings and be part of the Christmas 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 Christmas approached, Jim and Rose talked about their plans, and decided to tell her parents that they would not be making the drive again during the holiday season. They learned that for many people, the Christmas Season lasts until February 2nd (Candlemas Day) and that they had lots of time for a visit with Rose's family.

Parents Who Put Adult Children First During the Holidays

Henry and Mattie made a joint decision a few years ago to not try to be together on Christmas with their adult kids. Henry and Mattie 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 Christmas. It has turned out to be a good decision for all of them.

Other grandparents make a point of telling all their adult kids that their only expectation of them during the holidays is to let us know their plans so they knew how many to feed and when to feed them if anyone does decide to return home for the holidays.

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 kids 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.

Ways to De-stress the Holidays

  • Celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas.
  • Rent a motel 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! Make a decision that is best for the two of you and your children.

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