Tips For Couples To Master Splitting Time Between Families For The Holidays


Although the holidays may be the most wonderful time of the year, when you're in a relationship, they can be stressful. Not just because the holidays are stressful in general, but deciding how to divide your time with both your families can be something of a drama fest if it's not done right. Because the holidays are so much about family for many people, trying to navigate how you'll split your time between the families requires patience and understanding.

"Starting off by seeing what your partner is thinking about time with their family and then afterward expressing your wishes for time with yours is a gentle approach that can lead to a mutually acceptable compromise," therapist Kurt Smith tells HuffPost. "Whatever you do, don't start off by announcing your plans. Put your partner first, and it's most likely to lead to a win-win for both of you."

While you and your partner may be able to come to a resolution that satisfies you both, that doesn't mean your families will automatically be on board. But if you and your partner are happy with your decision, then do your best to let the input of everyone else roll off your back. It's impossible to please everyone all the time, and once you know that, you're well on your way to mastering how to divide your time between each of your families during the holidays.

Come up with a plan, but make it flexible

When you talk to your partner about the holidays, you want to come up with plan that you can both agree upon, in regard to dividing your time, then make room for flexibility (via Insider). For example, if you've decided that you'll do Thanksgiving with your partner's family and the December holidays with your family, but you find out your cousin Sue is flying back from, say, the Peace Corps in November and you want to see her, then you and your partner should talk about possibly switching where you'll spend the holidays.

If you choose to take this route, then agree the following year to switch it up. In fact, for a lot of couples, this type of rotation works. "If you're going to spend more time in the car than being face to face with family, then it might be best to split holidays on an 'every other year' rotation between your two families," relationship coach and licensed therapist Michelle Mouhtis tells Wedding Wire. The rotation is less stressful and doesn't involve running around and trying to handle multiple meals just to satisfy family members. But, still, keep it flexible. You never know when a relative might change their plans, if holiday travel will put a dent in what you've mapped out, or if family issues will arise that will have you and your partner flying solo for the holidays instead.

Divide up the holiday day

If it's possible to spend part of the day with one family and the rest of the day with the other family, then try that. Of course, this isn't going to be realistic if one family is on the East Coast and the other is on the West Coast, but if they're within driving distance and it's not too much of a pain for you and your partner, this could be the option that makes both families very happy.

However, if this is the decision you make, it might be difficult on two fronts: trying to leave the first family's place on time to get to the second family's place on time and possibly having to explain to each family why they weren't the first to be visited. It might sound petty, but people can be petty and selfish when it comes to sharing the people they love on the holidays. "If families aren't on board with your fair, thoughtful plans, trust that it's okay to disappoint family members now and again," relationship coach and licensed therapist Michelle Mouhtis tells Wedding Wire. "Acknowledge their feelings and know that, with empathy and healthy boundaries, your families will support your decisions in the long term."

Consider hosting both families

Want to kill two birds with one stone? Then suggest having both your family and your partner's family over for one of the holidays. If your families haven't met before, this could be a good time to do that, especially since the holidays are all about family and love, making it the perfect time for the big intro. If they have met before and get along, this could be the happy medium that will save you from family drama because everyone will get what they want.

If both your families are big, then consider co-hosting with one of the relatives and invite everyone from both sides. "Planning to host is a lot of work," etiquette expert Bonnie Tsai tells "So, it could be a shared effort — and if it's well communicated, then I think that eases the stress if it were just a single person hosting." Why not give it a try this year?

Have a code signal

Because families can really do a number on some of us, mentally and emotionally, having a secret code with your partner, like a signal and/or word, to exchange when you're ready to bounce, can insure you're both out the door before the holiday spirals in a negative direction. Some family members are notorious nags, others can be judgmental, and, of course, there's always that nosey relative who asks questions that should never be asked. 

"In your imagination, go through past family gatherings, identify the challenging dynamics and situations, and decide the best way to handle it," psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., tells The Zoe Report. "You don't have to respond to nasty quips or criticisms, and you don't have to stick around if things get difficult." If you can avoid this, and do so with grace and subtly, then decide on that secret code. You don't need your holiday ruined because some relative has decided to bring negativity to the table — literally and metaphorically. 

Don't make any promises

Because you simply can't make everyone happy during the holidays, try not to make any promises. While promising your partner you'll get through it together, as a team no matter what comes your way, promising family members is a different story. You don't want to hurt them, so it's essential to let them know your plan, but also let them know that nothing is set in stone (via Vice). In return, your family should be flexible too. If there's anything we learned from the past couple of years, it's that we never really know what's around the corner. Another pandemic? An airline going under? Possible political turmoil?

Ultimately, it comes down to communication and compromises with everyone who's going to be affected by your holiday plans (via The Knot). Maybe not everyone will get their way, maybe expectations for certain events will be too high, and maybe you'll end up having awkward conversations with family members who are disappointed in the plan you and your partner made. But both families need to understand that your partner, especially if it's a serious relationship, is now part of your family, too, even if you're not married. And while your partner shouldn't take precedence, per se, they should at least be on the same level of importance as the rest of your family. So, make sure you and your partner have a plan you feel is fair for both, and then go from there. 

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