Alice (to therapist): “I’m not looking forward to the holidays with Steve’s parents. My mother-in-law constantly criticizes how I parent the kids and talks about how “things were done in her day”. She doesn’t get that the world today is totally different from when she raised her family.”

Steve: “My family isn’t as bad as yours. Your father questions me about our finances and how we are investing our money. He forgets that I am an accountant.”

Are you going home for the holidays?  You know, “the MOST wonderful time of the year.”

Visiting each others’ families during the holidays can create major stress for couples, even in the best relationships. Whether you spend a day or a week with your partner’s family, the best way to avoid conflict and lower stress is to embrace it, anticipate it and plan for it. Unless this is your first holiday together you probably know what to expect from whom and what issues will arise. With a little bit of foresight and preparation, you and your partner will be able to have a much merrier holiday season. Here are some tips to help:

  1. Be a team – Set the stage by proactively talking about what support you will need from each other when you visit your respective families.
  1. Identify Issues – Think through and write down the issues that you know will arise and the people that you may have difficulty with.
  1. Discuss these issues respectfully – Take turns sharing the difficult situations you foresee. State your concerns factually. Remember you are talking about each others’ families. Be mindful that no matter what issues have occurred, most people still love and feel protective of their parents and other family members.
  1. Plan Your Responses
    • Pick your battles – Sometimes the best response is “no response” – walk away or bite your tongue.
    • Disengage and redirect – When your father-in-law tells you to be more aggressive in your stock portfolio say, “I understand that’s how you see it”. This acknowledges that you’ve heard him and ends the discussion. Then change the subject.
    • Be assertive – direct, honest, straightforward. When your mother-in-law comments about how you’re parenting your kids say: “I appreciate your concern, but I’d rather not talk about it now”.
  1. Get Support from Your Spouse –Create a signal that indicates to each other that you need to talk in private. Help each other figure out the best response in the moment.

Preparing for holiday visits to family is a great way to head off difficulties, create a sense of connection with your partner and set yourself up to have a wonderful time.

We would love to hear your tips about family visits during the holidays on our Facebook page.

To Your Relationship,

Lori and Bob Hollander

Sign up for our monthly eNewsletter, Radical Relationships, to receive more tips and articles about relationships.