The holidays are suppose to be magic. But the season of loved ones and tradition can create a landmine for family drama.
For example, take the couple that can’t decide where to spend Thanksgiving dinner. She wants turkey day at home. He wants it elsewhere—perhaps at his mother’s house.
Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, is a licensed psychotherapist, successful author, and Redbook Love Network expert. Tessina offers these tips to navigate the “holiday destination” debate.
Grab your detective’s hat and magnifying glass.
“It’s very easy to present your ideas like a trial attorney trying to win over the Supreme Court,” says Tessina.
Instead, Tessina suggests couples seek the root of the problem.
There are many reasons a spouse may want to celebrate the holidays at someone else’s house, including:
- It’s the only time they get to see their whole family.
- They are worried that older relatives may pass away soon.
- Skipping Mom’s dinner will hurt her feelings.
The spouse who wants Thanksgiving at home has their reasons, too. They may want to start their own household traditions or avoid certain activity at someone else’s home (e.g. excessive drinking, bad language, fighting, starts too late).
Become an expert diplomat.
Tessina cautions her clients not to speak their minds without consideration for how it will feel to their partner.
“You want to speak honestly but gently,” says Tessina.
This is particularly important when the discussion is about the spouse’s family. They don’t want their family criticized or made fun of.
Try these techniques to have a candid but gentle discussion:
- Get your spouse to talk first by asking a question. For example, what do you think about dinner at your mother’s house?
- Use your “I” statements. As in, I feel this way…not, your family is awful.
- If the subject is too explosive, agree to write down your thoughts and exchange them. This allows each person to get that first reaction out of the way.
If mom’s house is nearby, the couple can do dinner at their house and dessert elsewhere.
If the folks live far away, they can agree to celebrate Thanksgiving at home and Christmas with extended family.
The key is to look at all the options. Don’t approach the situation with an all-or-nothing mentality.
Start new traditions, but keep the old.
“You don’t want to get into competition with what’s gone on before with your own family or your spouse’s family,” says Tessina.
Instead, Tessina suggests couples start some household traditions, even while continuing to attend large family gatherings.
Take a long-term view.
If one spouse doesn’t get their desired location this year, there are steps they can take for future holidays.
Talk about how you will spend the holidays this year, and how you would like to celebrate in future years.
Use this holiday season for fact gathering. Think about what you feel and why. Note the things you like and dislike about the celebration.
Start the discussion early in the year. That makes it less scary and less stressful.
“Remember, enjoying yourself as a family is the most important part,” says Tessina. “Nothing is as important as that.”
Tina Tessina is a licensed psychotherapist in southern California, with 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples. She’s authored 13 books, including Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, and The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You’re Far Apart.