Spending the holidays with your partner for the very first time is really exciting. Not only is the holiday season romantic and magical, it gives you special opportunities to connect on a deeper level. You get to learn more about each other's traditions, and maybe even create some of your own. But if you've been going home for the holidays every year since you've moved out, it can give you a bit of anxiety to think about how your parents will feel about you not going home. So what should you do if you're feeling guilty over spending the holidays with your partner and not your family this year?
"You never see a holiday commercial where the elder parents are alone and happy that all their kids are off happily married," Shelly Kessinger, LPC, couples counselor and owner of Friendswood Marriage Counseling, PLLC, tells Bustle. "Guilt is derived from morals — the pressure to say 'yes' to everything, the negative stigma of saying 'no,' and the stereotype of families always being together during the holidays."
Deciding where to spend the holidays is a challenge that most long-term couples eventually face. It's a situation that's a lot easier to deal with if you and your partner grew up around the same area. But if you're traveling cross country to be with your partner's family, there's obviously no way you can spend the holidays with yours. It's a tough situation to be in, especially if you're close with your family. It's not uncommon to feel a little guilty about choosing to spend the holidays somewhere else. But guilt can actually signify a good thing.
"It shows where your values are directed," Kessinger says. "Obviously, you can't be at two places at once. So when you feel guilt, it comes from morally valuing both your relationship and your family, and logically being unable to meet both needs at the same time. Thus, having some guilt can be normal and OK."
How To Deal With Your Feelings Of Guilt
According to Dr. Julie Shafer, PhD, licensed psychologist who specializes in relationships, guilt comes from the expectation that we "should" be doing something. For instance, "I should be spending the holidays with my family." Sometimes the expectation can come from tradition since you always spend the holidays together, and sometimes it can come from a family member telling you that being home for the holidays is what's expected of you.
"We don’t usually think about whether the belief or expectations are true or not," Shafer says. "To deal with the guilt, I’d encourage my client to consider the merits of the expectation of spending time with family over the holidays."
So ask yourself, how much do you really want to spend time with your family during the holidays? Why do you want to? Is it because you never see them and you miss them, or do you feel like you're expected to? Could you spend time with them in other ways at other times?
If you ask yourself these questions and realize you're feeling guilty over expectations, remind yourself that it's your life and your choices. If spending the holiday season with your partner is really important to you, do it. Your family will understand.
When it comes to breaking the news to your family, Shafer suggests following this three step strategy for communicating difficult messages: Talk about the situation from the family's perspective, talk about it from your perspective, and then ask them for something.
For example, "I know it's a tradition for all of us to get together over Christmas, however, I'm considering spending the holidays with my partner. Would you be OK if I come home for dinner on Friday instead?" The most important thing here is to be open and honest.
Holding on to feelings of guilt and shame will inevitably ruin what should be an enjoyable holiday for you and your partner. So as Kessinger says, it's also important to release those negative feelings and let your partner know how you feel.
"Start with a disclaimer that you are just venting and not actually looking for advice or a solution," Kessinger says. "This issue is emotional, not logical. Share your feelings, be honest, and ask for support or a hug." This way, your partner is less likely to assume that you're having second thoughts about going home with them.
If you're feeling guilty over spending the holidays with your partner this year, just know it's totally normal. As long as you're honest with yourself about what you really want, and you tell your family how you really feel, you should be fine. After all, there's always next year.
Shelly Kessinger, LPC, couples counselor
Dr. Julie Shafer, PhD, licensed psychologist who specializes in relationships