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Tips For Handling Your First Holiday Together As A Couple

Tips for Handling Your First Holiday Together as a Couple

The first time a boyfriend ever invited me to spend a holiday with his family, I casually accepted the invite. You know, as one does when they are totally chill and have been invited to puh-lenty of such events. I then proceeded to silently freak out for a period of days leading up to the event. So much freaking out ensued about whether or not his parents would like me that I forgot to think about legit preparation before I entered his family home.

Would I be comfortable with our standard PDA? (Answer: No.) What was his mom like? (Answer: Stern.) His dad’s vibe? (Answer: Eccentric.) Any topical landmines? (Answer: No idea, just started lobbing questions.) Within the first 10 seconds of arrival, when I completely blanked on his mom’s name, I realized how ill-prepared I was.

We don’t want you to be like me this year, in case you’re enjoying your very first holiday season with your SO. Whether you’re heading home with them, or they’re coming to meet the fam, or you’re trying to create new couple-y traditions (or all of the above), these next several weeks might be fraught of anxiety and confusion.

In fact, it’s also peak season for argument and disappointment (Joy!) , says Tara Fields, PhD, couples therapist and author of The Love Fix. First, accept that things don’t need to go perfectly, and that’s fine. “It’s just important to have realistic expectations going in,” she explains. “Whatever happens, whatever you do, it’s not going to go seamlessly. Consider it all a work in progress.” Improve and chill with each passing year!

The more you can consider thoughtfully in advance, though, the better off you’ll be for your first holiday together as a couple—whether you’re dealing with your partner’s nosy mother, your personal anxiety over how to make the holidays “special,” or what gift to buy your overly particular SO. But worry not, with the help of these five therapists, SELF helps you prep for your first holiday together with these tips.

1.Clarify the relationship upfront

If your partner asks you home for the holidays and it’s really new, have that “so...what are we?” conversation before you hit the road, says Karla Ivankovich, Ph.D., a couples therapist and clinical counselor at OnePatient Global Health. “Also be respectful of the newness of the relationship for all involved,” she says. “Communicate with your parents on what this relationship means to you. If it’s casual and not serious, communicate that upfront to avoid uncomfortable situations.”

There’s no need for a partner to be grilled by your tipsy mother about marriage and babies when you don’t even know if you’ll survive to the New Year.

2.Skip any surprises

Either tell your parents that your partner will be attending the festivities with you, or insist your partner do this. This is especially crucial if you have a partner who likes to roll with it, and doesn’t always see events like “meeting the parents” as a “big deal” (I have!). “If you have not met the parents yet, encourage your partner to reach out to the family to inform them that you will be attending,” says Ivankovich. “This allows the family to prepare to meet you.”

3.Set clear boundaries

You know your fam. Will they be obnoxious about the way you’re living your best life? Then literally tell them it ain’t OK to go there. “I highly recommend openly discussing with your closest family members your boundaries before you and your SO arrive,” says Karen Stewart, Psy.D., a California-based couples therapist. “Send a group email or text to your immediate family discussing what you need from them.”

If you are not in the place to discuss marriage, children, or living together, ask them not to bring it up. If your partner is from a different faith or culture and is not comfortable discussing that, tell them.” Be firm.

4.Explain your typical holiday to each other

Again, surprises are fun, but save those for whatever’s covered in gift wrap. Let your partner in on a typical holiday agenda for your fam, or ask any questions you may have. Talk about the traditions, your family’s beliefs, gift giving, and so forth, so they know what to expect when you arrive and for the duration of your stay,

5.Explain the family dynamics

In addition to the basic rundown of events, you also want to explain what the family is like so they have a small taste. “What are the family’s quirks and eccentricities?” says Becky Whetstone, Ph.D., a marriage therapist in Little Rock, AR. “What do they love, what do they hate? Should certain subjects be avoided?”

Real talk: I once spent a holiday with my boyfriend’s family, and his dad (jokingly) took approximately 183,493 photos of me during the day. I wish he’d told me his dad liked to pull stunts before we arrived on the scene.

6.Respect each other's beliefs

Maybe you’re Christian and your boyfriend is Jewish, and you’re merging for the holidays. “If you come from different religious or spiritual backgrounds, ask your partner to be respectful by informing their parents, upfront, that you do not practice their traditions or share their beliefs,” says Ivankovich. This way, you won’t be forced into an awkward spot having to decline a tradition based on spiritual beliefs.

7.Get yourself comfortable

Gunther says to focus on easing into the new vibes instead if you’re concerned about how things will go—and try not to lean into the wine for this. “Thinking more about how to make them comfortable than worrying about how they will like you is always a good start,” explains Randi Gunther, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor in Southern California. “You can pretty much tell by just walking into an established environment what is okay and what is not.”

Gauge the vibe, but also focus on your comfort. For instance, I once had to clue a now-ex in on the fact that I wasn’t comfortable with PDA around his parents—despite the fact that, as he noted, they didn’t care at all. But I didn’t want to feel any more self-conscious. Discuss upfront.

8.Be proactive about getting to know family

If you’ve already met your significant other’s fam, get brownie points by reaching out to whomever is spearheading the day’s events to ask if you can help, says Ivankovich. “If you’ve already met the parents and are comfortable with them, reach out and ask if there is anything you can bring, like a favorite dish, decorations, wine,” she says. “Similarly, you can offer to assist in preparing the meal or helping with set-up.”

9.Bring the hosting party a gift

For the most part, no one knows parents like their kids. Brainstorm a really lovely gift or dish to bring to mom and dad to show you did your homework. “Maybe it’s a fruit cake from a special bakery, or a homemade dish that they love,” says Gunther. “A special gift that’s created or bought with inside knowledge will go a long way.” Personalized > price.

10.Figure out if other gifts are needed

If there’s some sort of gift-exchange that’s going to happen, you want to be clued into that. “Be certain to include a conversation about gift giving expectations of the family, but also of the gift giving the two of you wish to do as a couple,” says Ivankovich. “It’s important to determine who is required to purchase gifts and if there are expectations of gift giving minimums or maximums. Are gifts personal or general? Do you purchase for everyone or do they participate in a drawing or white elephant celebration?” If gift ground rules vary by year, either your partner or you need to ask the host what’s up.

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