Saturday, December 16, 2017

We are Definitely in the Thickness of the Holiday Season.

Am I Horrible for Dreading Dealing with My Partner's Family?
In answer to this question? NO!
Even if you love them it is just daunting and complicated. Ever watch the movies Family Stone or Home for the Holidays? Well, all holidays are not so cheery and easy breezy. What does it mean if you are in a relationship and how does that relate to spending time with relatives? What about in-laws?  Whether you love your in-laws and are trying to make them happy or you (between you and me, come on, you can tell me -- just between us) have to struggle through meaningless dialogues just to get through the family gathering it can be challenging for many.
We might not have the fortune of a mother that is understanding and unconditionally accepting of you spending time with your significant other’s family.  Moreover, there could be comlex options (or negotiations) that range from alternate holiday visits (this year mine, next year yours); to the majority of the holidays being spent with one spouse’s family; to spending time with your family, apart from your spouse, during the holidays.

There are obviously pros and cons to any of your choices.  What is seldom addressed is some people not liking their partner’s family.  Or not wanting to associate with them at that particular point in time during the holiday season.  Does one really want to deal with a partner’s family after the DUI (or losing the job, or when they know about your marital strife, or what about you being a politician and they disagree with your politics?).  How do you solve this issue of illed-socializing with  family?  Well, as a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles who focuses on relationships I often do genograms to get a sense of the genealogy that affects the relationship and one’s Self.  So, for the newly formed couples, I encourage learning about the family dynamics, as well as, understanding the role of the individual and the couple’s partnership/union/marriage within the relationship of the family.  
For the newly formed couple, ask questions early on and establish expectations about the holidays. It might be good practice to be open to new ideas.  I am not advocating this for all couples but what a strong statement in deciding a private holiday without the extended family!  The Brady Bunch does Hawaii for Christmas.  That could send a signal that you and your partner are the New Nuclear Normal and that extended families are not able to dictate how you run your life?  On the other hand, this type of holiday without the family might be perceived as a high degree of disrespect which might cause damage in the family relationship (Grandma acts out by now refusing to provide childcare!).  Whatever new couples choose to do, collaborate, collaborate, collaborate.  If you plan finances, date nights, grocery shopping then take control and plan holidays.  Families can not really argue about your holiday plans if you have told them nine months in advance about these plans.  
For the couples that have been in the ritualed trap of the annual stressful holidays with the inlaws, decide if the day (or week) is causing a toll on your relationship.  If you can ride the wave, deal with it.  If it is causing severe damage do something about it!  If you are forced to spend time with difficult relatives take control:  Save money during the year and rent a hotel and not stay in the house of the in-laws.  Plan date-nighes (as a means to separate from the party that is talking about the very thing you loathe).  Use your partner for a support system to get out of there when it becomes unbearable. The buzz word of “kelly or forest green”  or “hot pink” or mentioning the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Prince Henry marrying an American”  might be the signal for your spouse to save you from drowning by saying “AHHH my headache, honey I need to go to the hotel” or “Ahhh, my client wanted to get in touch and I forgot to get her that spreadsheet, I have to get back to the hotel…”  Being in an unbearable situation is great when duration and degree of the pain management is controlled by you.  And lastly, REWARD YOURSELF for getting through the holidays!  What does that reward and self care look like?  
Read more about Dr. Strayhorn's practice and philosophy...

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