But We Always Go to My Mother’s: The Importance of Making Your Own Traditions

But We Always Go to My Mother’s: The Importance of Making Your Own Traditions

With the start of the holiday season this week I want to address one of the most mine-laden topics a couple will face: what do we do for the holidays? How this issue is addressed can have a far-reaching impact on the relationship. This intricate dance involves each person’s relationship with his/her extended family, cherished (or depressing) memories from childhood, as well as the definition of the boundaries of the new relationship, both between the partners and with the outside world.

Most couples promise to love, honor, and cherish each other, forsaking all others until parted by death. When they are making these promises before their friends and loved ones, it often doesn’t occur to one partner they are also forsaking their Aunt Jenny’s famous oyster dressing or their Nana’s pecan pie. When autumn rolls around and the leaves start falling from the trees, one partner doesn’t realize that the promise made earlier in the year really meant an eternal vow to follow the other partner’s idea of holiday bliss. You like to sleep in and finish digesting the holiday feast, well, we get up at the crack of dawn to hit the holiday sales so set that alarm and be prepared for battle at 5 a.m. You’re in the Smith family now, time to get with the program. Trying to negotiate around someone’s well ingrained traditions is sometimes akin to challenging their politics or their religion. But not tackling this issue head on can leave a couple open to problems down the road.

Whose holiday is it?

Jack and Eleanor have been married for ten years. Thanksgiving has always been a big deal in Eleanor’s family because it has served a secondary role as their official family reunion. Each day is scheduled with the precision of a military parade and breaking ranks has not ever occurred to anyone. Jack has dutifully gone along with the program every year since he and Eleanor began dating. This year they had a daughter, and Jack wants to stay at home and begin a new tradition with just the three of them. He has no objection to joining the family event on Friday but it is now important to him to pass on some of the holiday traditions from his family. The pressure, both subtle and not, being brought to bear on Eleanor to maintain her family’s tradition is enormous and has resulted in many sharp words and hurt feelings. Understandably, Eleanor is caught smack in the middle of both of her families. She also is fighting her own feelings about altering what she has always done and what she thought she would always do. In addition, Eleanor never had to think about what Jack might want because it had never been an issue. Now this is an issue — front and center. A holiday she used to think of with warmth and anticipation has become a source of dread and unhappiness.

Avoiding the holiday swap

Many couples can relate to the above story. One way around this is to split the holidays between the families: Thanksgiving with one set of parents, Christmas with the other. Next year the reverse. Toss in Easter, Fourth of July, birthdays, etc. and the permutations become mind boggling. One slip up and the hurt feelings and recriminations color every event from that moment on. This results in either one partner giving in just to have peace or ongoing battles over whose turn it is to go where. Whatever the choice, one partner is sowing the seeds of resentment in the other. The end result is frequently smiles on the surface but roiling feelings below. Sometimes these feelings lay dormant until the next fall and the process starts all over again, this time with even more resistance and bad feelings. The best way around this whole mess is for a couple to determine between themselves how they want to celebrate the holidays and then let the extended families know their decision. This is not an easy process. Next time I’ll address how to do it and why it is important for the long-term health of a relationship.

Lesli Doares is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the Raleigh, NC area, an author, speaker and seminar leader. In her practice, Balanced Family Therapy, her focus is on helping couples build strong, secure relationships. Lesli and her husband have been married for over twenty years and have two children. To learn more about how to have a great marriage visit her website http://www.balancedfamily.com/ or contact her at lesli@balancedfamily.com.

© 2007 Cary Home Times

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