When the holiday season finally descends for a lot of us that immediately means family stress. In fact, the holidays might as well be synonymous with family disagreements and panicking, because so few of us manage to escape it. But what can make things far more difficult is when you don't just have to deal with your family dynamics, but when you've got your partner's family to deal with as well. It's double the stress, double the crazy uncles and inappropriate grandmas, and then you have to add the possible impact on your relationship into the mix. It can quickly turn into an effing combat zone.
So the one thing to keep in mind through all of it is to keep it light. "Be as light and breezy as possible," matchmaker and dating coach Karenna Alexander tells Bustle. "Lots of stressful things can come up. You don't want to add to the stress, so try to be the light and breezy one, the one who lets things roll of your back. Why stress yourself out with unimportant things? Try to let things roll off your back and have a good time! If you adopt this attitude you will actually be doing your partner a favor as well, as [they] will take cues from you, and if you are happy and unfazed by any family drama, [they] will likely not let it get to [them] either."
Whether you're just buying presents for your partner's family or you're going all out and sharing a holiday meal with them, there's so much potential for conflict.
1. Defer To Your Partner
Firstly, it's your partner's family. Your partner's. "Remember your partner and how you feel about them at any moment that you want to respond negatively about their parents," relationship coach and founder of Maze of Love, Chris Armstrong, tells Bustle. "This is not about the parents, it's about your partner."
So you should to talk to them if you're not sure how to handle something. If you feel like you want to help cook or buy certain gifts or give certain advice and your partner doesn't think it's a good idea, then defer to them. Even better, ask what they need and what you can do to make it go more smoothly.
2. Know When To Butt Out
You'll probably see some stressful moments between family members, especially if you're there for a major holiday meal. Just do your best to be respectfully make yourself scarce and don't comment on any awkwardness. Now, if they are being offensive to you or behaving horrifically, that may be a different story. But if it's between them, let it be between them — and remember it's a stressful time for everyone.
"My advice is to take them all with with a grain of salt during the holidays! In other words try to have some distance and not take it all so seriously," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Bustle. "They are likely going to be some differences, or mis-matches, or awkward questions that come up when spending the holidays with your partner's family. The best thing you can do is to let things roll of your back and not take the bait. Assuming that they aren't treating you truly badly you should have another drink, change the topic away from Donald Trump, and compliment the food!"
3. Talk Out Concerns Before Hand
Speaking of being offensive toward you, if you have any concerns talk them out beforehand with your partner. Not sure if the family will accept you? You're allowed to talk about how worried you are. Ask your partner what they think and how to handle it. "Get proactive: Think ahead of time of how each family member 'gets' to you," Dr. LeslieBeth (LB) Wish, LCSW, tells Bustle. You'll feel more prepped having thought about it going in.
Similarly, if you know there are tensions or certain stressful family members, you can air any concerns beforehand to make sure you know everything you need to before going in.
4. Give Yourself A Break
If you can't handle too much time with the family, then schedule breaks. Whether that means only coming right before dinner or — if you're visiting for an entire weekend — factor in some activities for just you and your partner. You'll be way more cool and collected at dealing with family drama if you have some time to re-charge. The holiday season can feel long, so make sure you're taking care of you.
5. Be Careful With Presents
Buying gifts should be fun, right? Right?! Yeah, no — that's definitely not always the case. And you'd be amazed how easy it is to offend someone through gifts. Make sure you're going with a really safe option (hello, bath and body products!) or something your partner is sure they'll love. Or at the very least, not be upset by.
6. Take Back Some Control
If things are really bad between you and your partner's family, you may need to take a more pro-active approach. "Change your goal from 'surviving' the holiday to taking charge of how you want them to view and deal with you!" Wish tells Bustle. She suggests updating them with good news (if you're looking for a job and you know they're concerned, give them an update about how great things are going and let them know you contacted a headhunter or scheduled interviews) and even changing the way you answer nosey questions.
"Handle those 'busy-bodies' and 'know-it-alls' by saying: 'Thank you Aunt...for your concern about me. What do you think I should do?' (They often don't have an answer--so they back off!)," Wish says.
7. Focus On The Positive
"First and foremost, assume positive intent," Armstrong tells Bustle. "Your partner's parents may be annoying or loud or snoopy to you but don't assume that they are trying to be this way." And try to focus on all of the great things about the holiday. When your partner's family is kind, generous, and thoughtful, try to give that as much attention (or more) as when things are stressful.
Every family is different and all family dynamics are unique, so a lot of how you deal with their family is down to you and your partner. By staying positive, knowing your limits, and having a game plan, you'll get through it OK. Just remember, it's sometimes your job to take the high road.
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