Year One: Home(s) for the Holidays

As thoughts turn to turkey and tinsel, the hand-wringing begins: Will you gather 'round the dining-room table at his parents' or yours? Here's how to navigate the season as newlyweds.

It's a classic catch-22: Your family expects you to spend the holidays with them. So does his. How to choose without offending anyone? We asked couples therapist Peter Fraenkel, Ph.D., author of Sync Your Relationship, Save Your Marriage, how to tackle this emotional feast-ivus of a season.

ACCEPT THAT YOU'RE IN TRANSITION.
"During your first holiday together, it hits home that you've created a new family," explains Fraenkel. And while that feels amazing, it may also feel weird—your hubby is now just as important as your parents are. The awkwardness will wear off (we swear!) when your married status becomes the new normal.

THINK IN TERMS OF "WE," NOT "I."
Deciding where to spend the holidays is a joint resolution you both need to be satisfied with, Fraenkel says: "Listen to each other, and make a decision together—this is a major step as a couple that will define you as a unit."

DEAL WITH THE FACT THAT SOMEONE MAY FEEL HURT.
Your decision may disappoint your mom, or his grandma, but you've got to accept that—it's all part of getting used to your status as married grown-ups.

STAND YOUR GROUND.
If people aren't being understanding, say, "We have to do what's right for us." The key, explains Fraenkel, is for you both to always stick to the party line: "This was a decision we made together."


Real Brides Sound Off

"Since my folks are separated, we do Christmas Eve ham with Mom and Christmas Day pancakes with Dad. Then we drive a hundred miles for a Christmas Day turkey with James's mom. Great to see everyone, but it's exhausting." —SARAH K., NEW YORK

"Kevin's mom believes in food that comes out of a can or a box—and that's why we've spent every holiday with my family. But I think 2011 will be my year to suck it up and deal with the in-laws—and the instant mashed potatoes." —CAROLE S., CHICAGO

"We just had a baby and thought we'd get out of traveling this year. You know: Newborn plus plane equal nightmare. But nope, each set of parents insists on getting their time, and we're giving in." —ALEXIS M., HOUSTON


What's Your Holiday Type?
We analyzed lots of real couples; four groups emerged:

THE DOUBLE-DINERS This couple live close to their parents and visit both sets. This means two turkey dinners and pants with elastic waistbands. Pass the gravy—and the Rolaids.

THE ALTERNATERS They do Thanksgiving with one set of parents, Christmas with the other, switching holidays each year. Depending on where their parents live, the travel expenses can get nuts.

THE GROUP-HUGGERS This couple have in-laws who get along well with one another (a modern-day miracle!), so the two families celebrate under one roof—maybe even the newlyweds'.

THE ESCAPISTS These folks don't get along with their parents—or can't choose whom to visit. Their solution: booking a vacay far, far away. A small price to pay for holiday sanity.

 
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