Christmas with your Spouse’s Family

In this entry I talk about your “spouse.”  Please know that I’m using this word out of convenience, and you can insert your boyfriend/girlfriend, significant other, best friend, partner, etc. in its place.

When you walk in the door at your parents’ house for the holidays, you know what to expect.   Your father greets you at the door, wearing his Bill Cosby sweater for the 25th year straight.  Appetizers are at 2 and dinner is served at 3:45 on the dot.  At 6:15 p.m. everyone walks around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights and then have fudge at 7 when you return.  Only then do you open up presents.  What seems overly scheduled and boring to others is as comfortable for you as your favorite sweats.

When you get to your spouse’s house, things will be radically different.  Uncle Max will sit outside and smoke a cigar, rain, snow, or shine at 3 p.m. on Christmas Day, just as he has for the last forty years.  Her entire family will be loud, and you’ll have to shout to be heard.  Someone will drink too much and break into traditional Irish folk songs.  Eventually she’ll be set off by something that won’t make sense.  But your confusion is beside the point, because you aren’t there to make sense of things.  You’re there to roll with things, be supportive, and hopefully have some fun hanging out with Uncle Max.

As much as it’s great to be spontaneous, when it comes to family, the best way to have fun is to prepare ahead of time.  Talk about who’s going to be there and what they typically do that gets her goat. Then make a plan for what you’ll do when you’ve had your fill of family time and need a break.  Perhaps you’ll go for a walk or a coffee.  Maybe you’ll see old friends.  You might even plan to take a vacation from your vacation and go away overnight.

Once there, check-in with your spouse from time-to-time.  If she’s starting to get frazzled and dragged into those same family disagreements from 20 years ago, take her away from the festivities for a moment and suggest that you do some of the things you planned ahead of time.

Keep in mind that you may have to be strategic about when you take your break.  You could get in the way of family traditions and cause more problems than it’s worth.  Rather than skipping the 30-year tradition of taking eggnog and Aunt Sally’s inedible fruitcake to all the neighbors and upsetting everyone, take time away before or after the ritual.  Once you’ve had your time away, you’ll be much more likely to enjoy yourselves (and be more enjoyable).

Also, cut her some slack.  When at home, she’s probably kind and considerate, and you get along well.  When with family, things probably won’t go so smoothly, and she might get crabby.  Rather than getting on her for being less than elegant, try to understand that she’s putting all of her energy into managing her family.  She’s doing her best to be pleasant to you, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

It’s often easier and more fun spending time with your spouse’s family.  And let’s hope this is the case for you.  However, if you find yourself starting to get frustrated with how things are going, take a moment and remind yourself that the holidays won’t last forever.  After you’ve both had a chance to detox, things will be back to normal.  Also, keep in mind that you’ll be with your family next time, and they’ll do all the nonsensical things that they do.  And you’ll want her to have your back.

 

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