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Holiday survival guide for couples

Elise Stephens blogs about relationships, life, and inspiration at www.elisestephens.com. She received the Eugene Van Buren Prize for Fiction from the University of Washington in 2007. Her novel Moonlight and Oranges was a quarter-final...

Braving the reunion together

Going home as a couple for the holidays? For most of us, this is tough, no matter how you slice that pecan pie. A little advance planning will increase your enjoyment and protect your mental sanity.
Couple in love at Christmas time

Roll up your sleeves and make room for some more fun and relaxation this season with you and your man. Here's how...

Plan your conversations

Your relatives will have all the best intentions behind their battery of annoying questions. The best way to handle them is to decide in advance with your partner what topics you’ll discuss. If someone asks, “How’s work going?” and you don’t have anything good to report, consider saying, “I enjoyed working on...” and discuss a project that you really liked even if it’s already been finished. Agree on subjects that you and your partner don’t want brought up and work as a team to make that happen.

Worst case scenario is that you get a question you don’t want to answer. If that does happen, just say something like, “We’re still talking about that one, and we haven’t decided.” Also, a great response for the “When are kids coming along?” question is, “We’ve decided to wait for now.”

You can also design a secret code. For example, if you have a relative who’s notorious for unending monologues, develop a secret signal like scratching your nose so that you and your man can call for help and rescue each other. This really works.

Profile your family

Depending on whose family you’re staying with, either you or your man will be the “expert” on the situation and the other will likely feel uncomfortable since it’s a strange house and the emotional expression levels are different. Consult together for how you can foster harmony, both for your family and yourselves.

For instance, in the past my husband and I have taken moments alone to debrief on his family’s communication styles which sometimes challenged me. He explained the general habits around his parents' house, and then we involved ourselves in more activities as I got to know his family better: I painted mugs with the nephews and nieces one year. Another time we brought a trivia game on a subject that his parents loved.

We all have our difficult dynamics. See if you can anticipate routine problems together. Is your aunt always bragging? She might be insecure and just need a few kind words of acknowledgment. Is his cousin usually cranky and restless? He might enjoy a new board game for the family to play together.

Take care of yourselves

Staying for an overnight? Bring your music, slippers or whatever makes you both feel safe and relaxed. This is especially important if one or both of you is an introvert who needs to recharge away from others. My husband and I sometimes take our laptop and watch a DVD in bed, in the sanctuary of our bedroom.

Plan time together for just the two of you, even if it’s a quiet moment in the morning before you join the clan. My husband and I get up the day after Thanksgiving for the Black Friday sales. We get to drink hot chocolate and catch the Christmas sales, and when we return to the house, we’ve had our time together before the rest of them have finished their breakfast.

Remember: You’re not alone

Take this time to really support your man as you work as a duo. Lean into each other and imagine you’re on a trek through a wild jungle. Adventures, especially the potentially awkward family ones, are always better when you have a friend.

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