Focus on Relationships: Expectations and Realities During the Holiday Season

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • More than during any other time of the year, we each have our own vision of the holiday season. This vision is influenced by our own family relationships, what we see on television and our dreams of the future. In both new and existing relationships, our visions can create friction, especially if we don't have open and honest communication. Imagine the following scenarios:


    • A young couple has recently become engaged. Both envision sharing the holidays with their respective families, introducing the love of their life to parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. They imagine the family get-together, the attention and congratulations over your engagement. But your fiancé feels the same way about his family and suddenly you are faced with the major decision of where to go for the holiday dinner.
    • A couple who has been together for several years has solved the problem of the holiday dinner, but now a new baby is involved and your images of the "first" holiday are at odds with your spouse's. As your child grows, you disagree on how many presents to buy, how much money to spend or whether you want to stay at home, creating your own family holiday traditions.
    • A couple disagrees on whether to have an artificial or live tree, how many decorations to put up, how much money to spend, etc. Each year they somehow make it through the holiday season but there is usually tension because the differences have never really been resolved, just glossed over and then forgotten until the next holiday season comes along.
    • A couple is hosting the holiday dinner but there are disagreements on what to serve, who should cook, how the food should be cooked or served and when working together in the kitchen, arguments often erupt.

    There is no right or wrong way to spend the holidays. Each family must decide what is best for them and when new families are formed, these decisions may need to be revisited and possibly revised. Communication and compromise are key to making sure your expectations and realities meet so neither person is left feeling resentful and left out.

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:


    It's not too late to make sure this holiday season doesn't end up with hurt feelings and hidden resentments. Find a time when you and your partner can calmly discuss the upcoming holiday and create a plan that you can use not only this year, but for years to come. Agree to discuss your differences with respect for one another's perspective and to work together to find a compromise in areas you disagree. While the following list is certainly not all inclusive, it is a good place to begin your discussions.



    • How will you decide the annual holiday budget? The amount of money you spend each year may change based on your situation but there should be guidelines on how and when you will determine your spending allowance and then agree to stick to your decisions.
    • Who is on your gift list?  You may love to give gifts and have a long list of people on your holiday list but this may not be practical, especially now that you have two families instead of one. Create a list together, deciding a spending limit for each person.
    • Who will shop? While many husbands leave the shopping to their wives, there are many men who enjoy shopping and want to participate. Before assuming your partner isn't interested in shopping, find out whether he wants to be included. Does he want to help shop for certain individuals? Would he prefer you take over for some of the family but would like to join you for others? Does he want to be responsible for shopping alone?
    • Will you give gifts to one another? Some couples choose not to exchange gifts with one another, assuming that each has the ability to purchase what they want throughout the year, others go all out, enjoying shopping for their partner. If you do buy gifts, is there a monetary limit to how much you will each spend? This is a personal decision but one you should agree on and respect. You don't want to agree to not buying gifts and giving one to your partner anyway, making him feel uncomfortable. Or if you have decided on token gifts but then you purchase an expensive gift for your spouse, he may end up feeling bad and have his holiday ruined.
    • Who will wrap the gifts? Some people enjoy wrapping presents and others find it to be a unavoidable chore. Talking about who will wrap the gifts ahead of time helps alleviate any arguments later.


    • Artificial or live tree? While this seems like a pretty easy question, many people have strong feelings about what type of tree to have and discussing it ahead of time can help fend off disappointment later.
    • How much do you decorate? For some, the tree is the only sign of the holidays, for others, the entire house is redone into a winter wonderland. If you want the wonderland but your partner fusses and complains with each decoration you put up, you may end up angry and frustrated. The opposite can be true as well. Discuss what types of decorations you want and find out if it matches your partner's idea of a well decorated home and if it doesn't, try to come up with a compromise so both end up satisfied with the result.
    • Do you decorate indoors, outside, or both? Holiday lights are a big tradition for many families and can become quite elaborate, others don't bother or one string of lights is plenty. You may want the winter wonderland to include your front yard but your partner wants no parts of putting up lights.
    • Who decorates? Once you decide how much you and your partner will decorate your home, divide up the tasks so you both know what to do and don't end up being angry that you are doing all the work.

    Religious Celebrations

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:
    • What religious celebrations will you participate in? You should already know and accept each other's religious beliefs, however, by discussing the particulars, such as do you go to church, when do you go to church, who do you go with, what other ways do you celebrate your religious beliefs, who is involved, you end up respecting each other's beliefs and working together to enjoy the holiday.

    Visiting Relatives

    • Where will you spend the holiday? This is an area there is almost always a need for compromise. There are so many possibilities. Are you going to host your own holiday dinner and invite both families? Will you spend the holiday with one family this year and the other family next year? Will you divide the day, spending time with each? Discuss all the options and decide what is best for your new family.

    While this list is not all inclusive, hopefully it gives you a place to start talking about many of the issues and helps create a plan for this holiday and for many years to come.



Published On: December 14, 2011