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Splitting Holidays: The Tactful Way to Approach Multiple Families

Posted October 29, 2013 by Marcy Twete in Life After Five

Being in a relationship means making compromises. What’s important to one partner sometimes must be weighed against what is important to other partners. But when you jump into a relationship or even a marriage, it’s easy to forget that there’s more than just two people involved. Huge networks of in-laws and friends exist when two people combine their lives. And the older you get, the more complicated your combinations become, as you’ve likely already formed family and friend traditions as adults, and the change of those kinds of traditions can become hot button issues within a relationship.

These kinds of arguments – Who do we spend Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s with this year? How do we balance the amount of time we’re spending with your friends/your family vs. my friends/my family? — are all relationship-ruining kinds of arguments.

Having been in one marriage where the splits didn’t work, and one where they seem to be working well, I’m giving you my best laid plans and tips for “splitting holidays.”

  • Equal isn’t always fair. When trying to split time between families, most couples try to divide the time equally. If they spend three days with one family one year at Thanksgiving, then they spend three days with the other family the next. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. Instead of trying to be equal, try to be fair. Fairness might be traveling to see one family only once in a holiday season, knowing that they often spend more time together in the spring, knowing you don’t need to compare them tit for tat.
  • Quality over quantity. It’s easy to want to always spend more time with your families. A five day, week-long trip sounds better than a three day weekend trip. But instead of thinking bigger, think better. Work to ensure that the time you do spend is quality time. Plan experiences you’ll remember together and create memories that last long into the future.
  • Be transparent with all parties. In the movie Four Christmases, the problem Reese and Vince’s characters had was in the fact that they lied to both families to avoid having to deal with the consequences. This will never work. If you’re spending 10 days with one family at Christmas and three with the other, you’ll need to be up front with both families about your reasoning and schedule — and ultimately you’re responsible for dealing with the consequences. But hiding it or pretending you’re not where you’re supposed to be will only make things worse.
  • Be prepared for some hurt feelings. When you tell your mom you’re not seeing her on Christmas for the first time ever, chances are she’ll be a bit upset. Deal with those hurt feelings head on, and help to make them better. Refer back to our second rule of quality over quantity and perhaps schedule some 1:1 time with mom to help ease the pain of a no-Christmas trip.

No matter your intentions, you’ll always find landmines when dealing with two families, two sets of friends, and other calamities of combining households. Handle these conflicts with love and care. It will get easier over time.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."