Visiting Family for the Holidays With Your Partner

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‘Tis the season for hot cocoa, snowflakes, and potentially uncomfortable family conversations by the fire. If you and your partner are visiting your relatives for the holidays, you may be feeling excitement and concern in equal measure. This is a bittersweet time for many couples who love the warmth and joy of being with loved ones, yet may feel overwhelmed by the challenges of family dynamics.

Whether it’s your first or twelfth time visiting family as a couple, this guide will support you in fortifying your relationship during one of the trickiest times of year.

Come up with a game plan together

The days and weeks before your trip are a great time for you and your partner to begin planning a successful holiday visit. Start by taking some solo time to think about your hopes and concerns. Open a Google Doc or use a good old fashioned notebook to make a few brainstorm-style lists:

  • What are my goals for us as a couple on this trip?

  • What are my biggest fears about this trip?

  • What challenges do I anticipate?

  • What are some ways that my partner can support me during difficult moments?

Once you’ve had time to reflect, check in with your partner and take turns sharing what you came up with. Pay special attention to what you can do to support one another, and make a plan for worst-case scenarios.

Are there special signals you can use when you need time together away from the group? Would one of you appreciate a gentle squeeze of support when Uncle Dan makes comments about your same-sex multiracial relationship? Is it possible that staying somewhere other than your family’s home might make these holidays a little more “merry and bright?"

Expect that you (or your partner) will act and feel differently

Spending time with your family of origin can be challenging--even if you have a great relationship with them. Do you experience confidence and ease in certain areas of your life that seem to vanish when you’re around your relatives? Even the most practiced meditators and successful business executives can revert back to old behaviors when surrounded by family.

There’s a saying that goes, “The reason your family pushes your buttons is because they’re the ones who installed them.” Since you spent time with your relatives during your developmental years (when you establish many of your habits, patterns and insecurities), some of the same dynamics from back then can resurface today. Joy to the World!

If you’re visiting your partner’s family, you will likely notice aspects of their personality that you don’t normally see. Keep in mind that this is totally normal (even if it’s not normal to you!).

Spending time with relatives gives you a front row seat to some of your partner’s family dynamics. With love and curiosity, consider how bearing witness to these interactions can make you a more compassionate partner. When you notice your girlfriend's mom commenting on her daughter's weight during dessert, it might make more sense why she’s particularly sensitive to whether or not you call her “beautiful” on date night. If his dad tends toward humor rather than deep conversation, this may clarify why your husband sometimes has a tough time with heart-to-heart chats.

Spend one-on-one time together

It's okay to take a break from family festivities every now and then. You and your partner get to carve out some alone time to relax and nourish your connection in the midst of it all. Share a short gratitude list with each other at night, cuddle an extra ten minutes in the morning, or go for a quiet walk if things feel chaotic. 

Spend a little time checking in together each day about how the trip is going. Do you want to debrief a challenging moment? Are you needing some time to yourself to read a book or go for an adventure on your own tomorrow? Would you like your partner to include you more in group conversations? Let them know, and adjust the game plan if you need to.

Know that there is magic in this adventure

There’s something powerful and healing that can happen when you visit family with your special someone. Although you may feel caught in challenging dynamics from childhood, this time you’re not doing it alone; you’ve got a partner who is there to support you. And if you’re visiting your partner’s family, you get to be a loving ally and gain insight into some of their most important relationships.

So be patient with yourself and your partner. Enjoy the moments of connection with family, offer support whenever you can, and remember that when you’re done, you get to go home, watch your favorite shows, and eat pizza in your pajamas together.

Would you and your partner like support in building an even stronger relationship? Let's connect. I offer transformative therapy for couples in the Bay Area.