We are entering that time of year where couples start to make plans for how they will spend the holidays, and this can spark conflict between partners. Depending on the length of the relationship, emotional ties to the holidays, and location of family, partners can find themselves with vastly different expectations and desires for how to spend time together over the holidays. Newlyweds may be struck with how difficult it is to navigate this time of year under the recently bestowed expectation that they will now spend the holidays together, whereas before they would just connect before or after.

To enjoy the holiday season and reduce the frequency of stressful conflict, it is helpful for partners to prepare and communicate effectively as they begin to make plans. Here are some helpful tips to feel like a team this holiday season.

  1. Communicate expectationsToo often, partners find themselves in vicious circles of conflict due to unknown expectations and acting under false assumptions. The easiest way to interrupt this pattern is to directly address any miscommunications. Be proactive and initiate conversation with your partner early rather than waiting until the last minute. Do not be critical of your partner’s expectations and desires. Try to understand what fuels his or her passion, and communicate your hopes in the same way.
  2. CompromiseHealthy relationships and marriages involve compromise and do not focus on the importance of winning or being right. This is crucial to emotional topics like where to spend the holidays. You and your partner come from different backgrounds, each with their own traditions and meaningful events. It is normal for holiday expectations to conflict, and you need to work with your partner to find a suitable compromise.

    By definition, compromise does call for sacrifice. If you spend Thanksgiving with your partner’s family, you sacrifice your favorite dish from your own family’s big meal. If your partner spends Christmas day with your family, he misses the traditional party on Christmas Eve. It may take some time, effort, and a few tries to find a balance in compromise that works for you and your partner. Be patient, and remember to prioritize your partner’s needs and wishes.

  3. Seek counselingRather than a symbol of shame or a sign that your relationship is not equipped to handle conflict, counseling can be a proactive and adaptive way to help solve relationship issues. Because the holidays and family can be hot-button topics for many partners, having another person in the room to direct conversation and minimize escalation is a much more constructive way of navigating this time of year then entrenching yourself in bitterness and resentment. Talk to your partner about the possibility of going to therapy with the hope that you will both learn new skills that will help you navigate future holiday seasons on your own.

Although at times it can be stressful, remember the point of the season, and try to see how life will go on beyond the entrance into the new year. In the end, it is not so important who sits where, what family gets priority over what holiday, or even that your partner did not automatically understand that something was so important to you. Relationships are a learning process and continuously evolve. It is important that you prioritize your partner and enter holiday discussions with the goal of working together to find a suitable solution for this year and the many years to come.