Going home for the holidays can be a stressful time for everyone — but when you're in a long-term relationship, there's a good chance you end up spending some of the holidays with your partner's family. If that's what you're up to Thanksgiving and you're feeling nervous (or, you know, just an impending sense of full-blown terror) then you are definitely not alone. I spent Easter with my girlfriend's family this year and nearly hyperventilated on the way to dinner, and I get along with her family. It feels like a huge relationship step, plus you're dealing with their family tensions and trying to navigate them as an outsider. Oh, and on top of that, you need to support your partner if they're feeling stressed. It can end up feeling like you need to be on your best behavior — engaging, bright, upbeat — all the time, often to the point of exhaustion.
But trying to stay positive is also so important. "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."
It's good advice, but it's easier said then done. If you're heading to your partner's family for Thanksgiving, here's what you need to bear in mind to help it go as smoothly as possible.
1. Have A Game Plan
It can help if your partner fills you in on any important relationship dynamics or quirks beforehand — and if you know you may have issues with certain people, decide how to handle it before you get there. "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."
It may seem extreme, but even having a code word for when you need a few minutes of alone time can help so your partner knows when they need to cover for you. Work on ways to actually make this holiday work for you, rather than just getting through it. "Change your goal from 'surviving' the holiday to taking charge of how you want them to view and deal with you," Wish says.
2. Focus On Your Partner
If there's a lot of stress or drama, it can be easy to forget the reason that you're there. Focusing on your partner can help motivate and ground you. "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." That's what you're there for, so that's where your attention should be.
3. Treat It All Like Water Over Your Back
Try to focus on the positive and don't take the other stuff too seriously — people aren't always at their best during the holidays. "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 mismatches, 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!" And take a minute to breathe when you need it.
Thanksgiving can be a really stressful day, but remember that you're there because of your partner. If you can have a game plan to make that work and then just let the rest go, it'll be easier than you think. Oh — and pumpkin pie helps.