Holiday Survival Guide

The holidays can be an agonizing ordeal for the young couple that has never navigated them together. What is meant to be a season of fun family celebrations often derails into a series of frustrating fiascos.

Imagine these tension-building scenarios:

  • You look forward to your first Thanksgiving together at home. You can’t wait to share a meal together, rest and relax. However, your spouse is planning on traveling to their parents’ house. Their Mom plans on making the meal, and expects you to eat and shop with their entire extended family.


  • You anticipate a traditional Christmas Eve with your family of origin. You can’t imagine not doing what you’ve always done. But you discover that your spouse has made altogether different plans, and they don’t include your family’s traditions.

These real-life scenarios play out countless times annually. Expectations aren’t met, feelings are hurt, and negative patterns are set that further charge future holidays.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s 5 tips to help you survive the holidays:

1. Guard your new priority.
Your new family is now your top priority. Do not let anyone else’s plans come first. This new relational setup is in sharp contrast to what you’ve experienced thus far in life, and will not be readily accepted by every member of your new family.

Make the shift to independence gracefully. Your new life together will be a blend of two families. You’ll want to communicate with your spouse about your hopes and expectations for the holidays. If you don’t, I assure that someone else will make plans for you. After you’ve determined what you’re going to do, firmly but lovingly communicate your holiday plan. Support your spouse, or you’ll chip away at the trust you’re building in your new marriage.

2. Know this: Everybody’s family is crazy.
I do a lot of family counseling in January. Why? Because people just barely keep it together from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. Then the wheels come off.

It’s not hard to see why. Bring together 10 people who don’t seen each other much, set them around a table, and you’re bound to have conflict. Add age-old hurts and baggage, and some level of discomfort is unavoidable. Your Aunt makes a sideways comment about the potatoes your Mom made. Your spouse is shocked to hear how one certain family member speaks to you. The permutations that result in hurt feelings are incalculable.

You know what helps? Knowing that everybody’s family is crazy. It’s not just yours. There is no such thing as the perfect family. Don’t think your family is better than your spouse’s just because they seem to have it together. They don’t. And that’s ok.

Learning to bear with one another is a skill worth developing. Keeping in mind that this angst is universal helps you keep some bearing of sanity.

3. Tactical Compromise
With that in mind, you and your spouse are going to have to make some decisions.

Whether your families live in separate states, or just on opposite ends of town, you’re going to have to make decisions about where to spend your time. Do so wisely. Splitting family time is a fine line to walk. Ultimately, your goal should be to express love and value to each side of the family during the time you are able to spend with them, even if it’s not everything they had hoped for.

Gift giving is another hot-button topic. How much to spend and who needs to be determined, not only by your desire but by your budget. There is absolutely no sense in spending beyond your means to supply someone with a present. Get creative, map out a plan with your spouse, and stick to your budget.

These are just two areas you’ll have to come to a consensus between the two of you. Like I said before, unity is key to happiness in marriage. Make your compromises at home, and express a united plan to your greater family.

4. You can’t please everyone.
If you’re a people pleaser, this may be the most difficult step for you. I guarantee that acceptance of this truth will ultimately lead to more peace for your new family.

The first years we were married, we embarked on a frantic and harried effort to please all of our family members. They, of course, expected us to be in three places at once. Eager to comply with everyone’s wishes, we loaded up the car with gifts and monitored our time closely to ensure we could move on to the next celebration quickly. It was awkward, and not much fun. Eventually, about year 5, someone was hurt when we took our tired, crying kids home instead of coming to their house.

After that we said, “This isn’t working” and we changed up the game plan. We should have made that decision a lot sooner. We spent a lot of time trying to appease everyone, and it eventually didn’t work. Start instead by loving your spouse enough to listen to their true desires, and trying to meet them. Let everyone’s expectations fall where they may.

5. Build your own traditions.
After 15 years of marriage, I value our quirky blend of traditions even more than those I grew up with. Over the years we’ve carved out our own unique niche for our family, blending some of our favorite food and fun family times to our celebrations. The product is a holiday season that refreshes and nurtures the very soul of our family.

This year you have an opportunity to further establish your own family’s traditions. Instead of letting it sneak up on you, take an active role in planning a great Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year. Set up positive pattern for holiday planning, and you’ll enjoy a lifetime of celebration together.


Joe lives in upstate, NY with his wife and four daughters. He is a pastor at New Life Ministries, the church he grew up in. After 15 years of marriage and ministry, he's passionate about helping others navigate the challenges of life through a strong connection with God. For more information, visit Joe's blog.

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