Navigating Differences During the Holiday Season:Couples Edition

Tis’ the season for bright lights, gift giving and celebrations honored by many. This is the season that emphasizes empathy and traditions. Holidays bring a thrill, reminders of our values, and connection to those closest to our hearts.

The holiday season is such a special time of year, partly due to international acceptance and festive displays. December marks a time of annual community events and seasonal media representations of family and holiday themes. During this time of year couples and families lean on their values and beliefs. These principles are expressed in various ways, such as candle lighting, singing, praying, generosity, or enjoying eggnog while admiring the family’s decorated tree.

Those in a partnership, dating, engaged, or married will find that navigating the holiday season will require couples to collaborate. Shopping and decorating together can be a fun time. However, partners should converse, and check-in with one another. Holidays bring a blissful season of gatherings, and can impact couples by highlighting cultural and religious differences.

The Gift of Decisions

You’re faced to decide if you’ll attend your family’s annual caroling, or join your spouse at your in-laws’ Menorah gathering. Are you feeling double booked as the year comes to a close? As a couple, are you faced with decisions of ‘your family or mine’?

For couples with different upbringings or religious beliefs, various complications can present. We’ve made strides in society by recognizing it as a freedom to choose a significant other beyond race or religion. However, an interfaith relationship will experience recurring conversations around beliefs, religion, and ethnic differences. While most couples in the United States marry within the same faith, research shows an increase in interracial relationships. Pew Research Center shares a 2010 report of 4 out of 10 Americans married to a spouse of a different faith.

In due part to generational shifts around diversity and acceptance, interracial couples have become an integral part of our society. Young adults are choosing to break chains of normalcy to achieve authentic connections. It certainly takes courage when deciding as a couple to alter traditions and faith-based expectations; to remain centered in a union of love. 

The balancing act of compromise and decision-making is also significant in the homes of couples sharing the same beliefs. Couples that find connection through similar interests, culture, and faith have common joys. However, being individuals first and then paired by love second, it is likely to have variances of thoughts and expectations. Elements such as family history, personalities, and even a partner’s love language can impact a couple’s relationship and perspectives on the holidays.

Family experiences can present challenges for couples recognizing the same holidays. Perhaps your spouse’s family upholds traditional gender roles and acts of service. Therefore, holiday mornings might bring your wife joy in being able to join her mother, aunts, and other females in the kitchen; putting together the family feast. This might differ from your family’s experiences of sleeping in, breakfast in bed, and celebrating privately at home. Whether celebrating the same holidays or navigating differences of beliefs, effective communication is vital for healthy relationships.

December Difficulties

The December holiday rush can place couples in tough conversations around social and religious commitments. To become anxious about incorporating your significant other’s holiday traditions is very normal. Holiday experiences acquired in childhood or as a single adult become your foundation for comfort and normalcy. As a couple, this time of year can require adjustments to the status quo. 

Couples celebrating different holidays, or the same but in different ways will have additional concepts to be mindful of. December difficulties could present as parents discussing schedules to support their child’s holiday dance. Couples budgeting to afford multiple travels to family celebrations or newly engaged partners feeling overwhelmed by traditional ceremonies. An array of conflicting engagements can place strains on couples and family relationships.

A part of the challenge around honoring different holiday practices includes input from extended family members. It’s commonly noticed that senior members of a family system hold traditions and religion near and dear. It can be a challenge to explain loyalties to your intimate relationship in comparison to family affairs. Family members might have trouble embracing the decision made by you and your partner. It is natural to experience feelings of guilt, and sadness. How can you appease two, three, and even four sets of parents? It’s truly important to acknowledge your relationship as an entirely new product, derived from diverse family systems. 

If you and your significant other are attempting to juggle different family beliefs, you’re one of many. How do you explain to the person you’re dating that you can’t join their family’s annual gift exchange because your family doesn’t host the tradition of presents? Dilemmas as such certainly take time to process. In these types of challenges, couples should reflect on what brought the relationship together, to begin with.

As a couple, questions about which traditions your children will follow come up in conversation? What if kids are a part of the discussion between you and your spouse or a former companion? Whether together as a couple or co-parenting as parents at the core should be decisions related to the best interest of the child. Depending on the child’s age and understanding, including their perspectives, model empathy, communication skills, and problem-solving.

Cheers to Couples Compromising!

Each partner in the relationship must implement efforts in teamwork and understanding. As a couple, collaborative measures should include communication, scheduling, and compromise. After all, we only experience this season of multicultural, holiday celebration once a year.

        As a couple, conversations and courage can allow room for negotiation. Being in a partnership can sometimes feel like dancing the Tango. Grace and flexibility are needed to support the balance of your traditions, as well as your partner’s approach to the holidays. Whether dating or married, it is important to make time for your partner’s values. This starts with acknowledging as a couple that you both are faced with something new, possibly uncomfortable, and different from your world.

Starting the conversation is a step toward compromise. Here are a few more:

  1. Agree to disagree: Strive for understanding one another and less on the agreement of details.“ In order to get to a healthier and more productive place, we need to give up our fear of conflict, turmoil, and resistance.” – John Gottman
  2. Ask your partner questions: With genuine interest and curiosity ask your partner how holidays were celebrated during their childhood. Gain an understanding of holidays and traditions from their perspective.
  3. Be creative: Join in collaboration, if beliefs are in any way compatible. Reinvent traditions. Perhaps Christmas dinner could include dishes from the Caribbean, or Challah (Jewish bread enjoyed during holiday celebrations).
  4. Security: A couple that maintains trust in their relationship, will be able to depart and reunite appropriately. Some matters will require attending gatherings separately.

Happy Holidays

What makes a couple’s relationship unique would be the elements contributed by each individual. Celebrating different holidays means you have more opportunities to connect with others, similar and different from you. It’s a chance to have heartfelt experiences. To be in a healthy intimate relationship, companions must implement respect for one another’s values and beliefs.

To achieve an enjoyable holiday season with your partner, respect and love have to be present in the conversation and both of your hearts. Compromise is a tool for couples throughout the year, but especially when discussing different beliefs. Relationships strengthen when holidays are celebrated together. It’s a beautiful way to share meaningful moments. A happy holiday season is one including love, laughter, and perhaps new traditions.

As the holidays unfold, are you and your partner experiencing trouble communicating? Feeling unsure of your partner’s traditions and religious expectations? Overwhelmed by the demands that come along with the holiday season? If so, the elves known as Milestones therapists welcome you! Give Milestones a call at (443) 574-4295.

Submitted by: Shaneka Campbell, LGMFT

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