The holidays can be a source of stress for families — especially new marriages. But you can mitigate some of that stress, our experts say, by having talks about the holidays. Here are four talks they say you should have ASAP.
1. ASK: Where will we spend the holidays?
When you got married (or engaged), you presumably doubled the number of holiday options you each have. "Deciding when and for how long you are at one set of in-laws or the other or whether you want everyone in your home is a big decision," says Lesli Doares, marriage coach and author of Blueprint For A Lasting Marriage. "You will not be able to please everyone, so the focus needs to be on what is right for the two of you."
When it comes to this conversation, don't make assumptions, warns relationship expert and psychotherapist Toni Coleman. Instead, you have to lay it all out on the table for one another. "By discussing concerns, you can come to an agreement between yourselves that supports and protects your interests and needs as a couple, and allows you to have each other's backs if extended family get upset or act out around this decision," she says.
2. FIGURE OUT: Your holiday budget.
Sticking to any budget can be tough — and it can be especially difficult during the holidays. "It's easy to go overboard at the holidays both for each other and for family and feel the hangover in the new year," says Doares. But it's smart to set up a holiday budget for more than just the protection of your bank account. "Money is never about the dollars and cents but about what it means to each of you — love, generosity, sense of value or success," Doares explains. "Being clear about what you can afford and sticking with it is a way to keep from stressing out at this time of year."
3. ASK: What traditions will you adopt?
As Coleman explains, "Our traditions tend to be deeply held and cherished — they define who we are and where we come from. And holidays feel like holidays because of how we celebrate them." That's why you should talk to your spouse about what traditions are most important to you, and which you want to keep. Doares warns that some of your traditions might be in opposition to one another. If so, this conversation gives you the opportunity to talk through those challenges, or even create new traditions as a compromise. "Melding old ways into new traditions honors both of your pasts and the future you are creating together," she says.
4. FIGURE OUT: Your expectations and boundaries.
The holiday season holds different expectations for different people, Doares says. For some, it might be a season of painful memories. For others, it's the best time of the year. Either way, "honoring your own feelings as well as those of your partner's around the expectations the holidays spotlight is critical," she says, no matter the blowback. "Be supportive of your partner's needs when there is pushback from friends and family."
Of course, now's also the time to set boundaries with family members. "It's not enough for the couple to be on the same page and to come to an agreement on how they will handle holidays in their new family," says Coleman. "They need to have a frank discussion about how their respective families feel, about anything that has been said to either one by their parents, siblings or grandparents, and decide how they will present their position as a team."