Resolving 5 Common Pre-Thanksgiving Relationship Stressors
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and you’re already dreading the stress of awkward questions, rude comments, and spending time with family members you haven’t seen in a while. You’re not alone! Perhaps the idea of introducing a new person into this mix or considering the feelings of your partner contributes to the mounting anxiety. It’s no surprise the stress of many couples increases during the holidays, and lawyers remind us that break-ups and couple distress occur more frequently during this time of year.
In an ideal world, Thanksgiving should function as a low stress holiday since all that is required of you (if you’re not acting as the host) is show up and eat. However, when family members offer rude or indecent comments or behave badly, it can put a negative spin on an otherwise fantastic family get together. I have compiled five of the most common holiday relationship stressors and offered advice to help you minimize their effect, uphold strong familial relationships, and enjoy Thanksgiving.
1. Choosing who to celebrate with. Many couples experience difficulty when deciding whose home to celebrate Thanksgiving and other holidays. Some couples resort to attending several Thanksgiving dinners to avoid hurt feelings. If you find yourself stressing out over where to spend Thanksgiving, consider trading off year to year. To boost the love felt by each side of the family, consider spending Thanksgiving at one parent’s home and Christmas at another’s. You can alternate these holidays year to year. Some couples feel so strongly about being with their family that they split during the holidays - each traveling to their own family’s residence. Although this causes the couple additional stress because they remain apart, it is a viable option for couples who feel strongly about seeing their family. Communication is key; make sure you both understand each other’s feelings so neither partner will feel hurt.
2. Invasive questions from family members. Most everyone can relate to one or two family members who ask invasive, curt questions that leave you feeling shut down, annoyed, or hurt. Try roleplaying some of the questions to come up with appropriate responses before you encounter these relatives. “When are you getting married?” “Where is the wedding and who will be invited?” These questions can leave you utterly speechless, particularly when you’ve planned a small wedding or are contemplating an elopement. Grilling you as to why you’re not married is equally offensive, especially if you recently went through a difficult beak-up. Prepared responses, such as, “I don’t know,” or “we haven’t thought about that,” followed by walking away or joining another conversation is a polite way to communicate to the interrogator that you are disinterested in responding. Prep your partner to understand that this is a boundary for the two of you to keep private prior to Thanksgiving to help you stay strong and secure in your relationship while maintaining good family relations.
3. Cultural misunderstandings. For many multicultural couples, embracing cultural backgrounds affect the way they choose to celebrate Thanksgiving. Rather than exercising judgment, be curious. We don’t always understand the sensitivities of each other when we gather around the table. To help enrich families rather than enraging others who may say or do something out of the “norm” for a Thanksgiving dinner, be open to sharing and trying new foods. Contributing to what we each consider “normal” for a Thanksgiving dinner is how each participant was raised. For some families, chaos became a component of every holiday, meaning the celebration can bring up old wounds from the past. As much as possible, listen more and say less
4. Limited time for couples to connect. A flurry of activity ensues when you visit mom and dad, and you may experience more conflict with your significant other if they feel ignored or overlooked. Take time to check in with each other, schedule time for date nights, and practice self-care by engaging in activities you enjoy alone or with your partner’s family. Taking care of yourself and getting to know the people who raised your significant other decreases your partner’s tension and assures them you can take care of yourself.
5. Conflicts with family members or in-laws. Like in all walks of life, you won’t enjoy everyone’s company. Loving someone doesn’t guarantee you will love every member of their family. When the people you have the greatest difficulty getting along with are your partner’s immediate family, the situation can intensify strife at the holiday gathering and your relationship. Before Thanksgiving, spend time speaking with your partner to brainstorm responses or ways to distract from any situation that may arise. Your partner’s parents and siblings developed a deep connection with the one you love; trying to get along with them is in the best interest of your relationship. Thanksgiving isn’t a time to even the score or fight back. While it may sound silly, choosing a “code word” or signal you can give your partner when you need them to step in and help divert a situation or conversation you feel uncomfortable in is a great way to moderate conflict. Increase intimacy by standing on your partner’s side and protecting each other from saying something that can hurt feelings and cause a family feud for years to come. Abstaining from alcohol is also helpful, as it can cause someone to forget how they sound, and remarks can be misconstrued.
Holidays are a time of increasing stress, especially if you are the host and want everything to be perfect. As much as possible, let go of unrealistic expectations and be grateful for each guest that graces a place around your table. Keep Thanksgiving focused on the beautiful food, gratitude for all your blessings, and the memories of the people who share it.