Did you already get a taste of the tug-of-war that can happen between two families while you planned your wedding? We hate to break it to you, but it's not going to get better just yet. Even the most supportive and loving families will want to keep the new bride and groom all to themselves, especially around the holidays. While it can be frustrating, think of it as an endearing sign that you and your spouse come from two wonderful families who love you both.
Even so, choosing where to spend your first holidays as newlyweds might not be that simple. To avoid offending either side of your new family, we asked two couple's therapists to share their best tips for divvying up the holiday events.
Remember to communicate.
You'll find that this almighty word comes up frequently during your first year of marriage. Understand how you and your spouse feel about the holidays, and whether or not sharing them with one or both of your families is very important to either of you. "Keeping harmony between families and each other can, ironically, be very stressful," explains Kat Van Kirk, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist. "Since this is your first official holiday since getting married, your families will be looking to you to set the standard." Her tip? Stay calm and talk it through. "A fight is still a form of communication, just be constructive with how you do it—fight fairly."
Depending on the status and wellbeing of your individual families, you may want to consider spending the time with one side versus the other. "Does one family need more support right now than the other? Is there more strife this season on one side versus the other? Are there pre-existing abuse or trauma issues?" asks Van Kirk. It's okay to let these factors play a key role in your decision. Additionally, you'll want to think about travel. Is it geographically possible to see both sides without causing too much stress? If so, Van Kirk says it's worth it to go out of your way during the first year, but to make sure both families understand you may not make this a tradition.
Be willing to compromise.
This is another important habit to get into, as much of the conflict you'll experience throughout your marriage will only be solved when compromise plays a role. When it comes to the holidays, many couples find it useful to switch off—celebrating the holidays with one family one year, and the other family the next. But Van Kirk points out that some families may be more sensitive regarding this kind of an arrangement. "The family not selected for what they consider to be the 'bigger' celebration, may feel like the other family is getting preferential treatment." Instead, she suggests choosing between visiting one family for Thanksgiving and the other for Hanukkah or Christmas, and then swapping the next year.
Stand as a united front.
As a couple, it's important to let your respective families know that your new family—the one consisting of you and your spouse—takes first priority, explains Deb Castaldo, Ph.D., marriage therapist and author of Relationship REBOOT. "You may not be able to get everything you want out of the situation, and someone in your extended family may be unhappy, but you will be giving the message that you are a solid team." Once you've talked amongst yourself as a couple, Castaldo recommends discussing your decision together with your families.
Expect things to change once kids are in the picture.
"Once you have established your own holiday routines and traditions, be prepared to rethink your strategy all over again once kids arrive," warns Castaldo. "Traveling with babies and young children can certainly be cumbersome and exhausting, so keep your own self-care front and center and realize that it's okay to have the holidays at your own home instead."