The main problem hanging over Erica and Aaron Weiss this holiday season: whether to hide a bear or a pickle ornament on their Christmas tree.
It is not as peculiar as it may seem. The couple, who married in October 2021, grew up in homes with deeply rooted Christmas practices. In Erica Weiss’s family, the children hid a small teddy bear ornament in the tree. In the few weeks leading up to December 25, each brother would move the bauble to a different location. The last person to do so would open the first present on Christmas morning.
In Aaron Weiss’s family, one of his parents would hide a pickle ornament somewhere in the house. The person who found it won $10.
Of course, the Weisses, who live in Smyrna, Georgia, can choose to honor both traditions. And your decorating dilemma certainly isn’t as complicated as, say, trying to determine where to spend Thanksgiving and who to put on a gift list. Still, it’s part of the craze known as the “new family meltdown” during the holiday season. And it can get complicated.
“Everyone has a different concept of what this holiday means,” said Susan Winter, a relationship expert in New York. “A couple’s idea of Christmas might be to decorate the house massively, lights everywhere, give presents, while their partner wants to stay home with eggnog.”
Therapists often find their second home during this time of year, when tensions (and blood pressure) reach a boiling point. It’s understandable: Many newlyweds now struggle with two or more sets of families with different values, customs, and assumptions. The stress of dividing or merging age-old traditions, combined with the expectations of attending or even hosting multiple events, can make the holiday season less than joyous.
Perhaps at no time is this more pronounced than the first year of marriage, “an official transition from being the child of your nuclear family to being the head of the family you are creating with your partner,” said Elizabeth Earnshaw, a marriage and family therapist. in Philly.
And while you’re excited to embark on a new life with your own rituals, you both may be torn between loyalty to your family of origin and the one you’re creating with your spouse. Their families, in turn, may have some level of “unacknowledged resentment that their brother, sister or child has someone else’s attention that is a priority,” said Eli Mayer, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist in New York.
So how do you survive your first holiday season together as a married couple? And how do you prepare for common pitfalls like choosing where to celebrate, hosting your families for the first time, budgeting for gifts and events, and domestic drama?
Discuss vacation plans early
Experts stress the importance of communication, setting firm boundaries, and above all, presenting a united front.
“Ideally, couples will navigate the festivities by sitting down together and exploring what matters most to each individual,” Earnshaw said. “Often this will require each spouse to talk to their respective families about what has been decided.”
During these conversations, he suggests that couples talk in terms of “we” rather than “me.” So instead of blaming your spouse for refusing to attend the annual dreidel spinning festivities at your parents’ house this Hanukkah, it’s better to simply start with a pithy: “We’ll do our thing at our own place this year. ” (Yes, it is okay to lie on this one occasion.)
Couples, however, should nail down the details of their holiday activities, which is what Louis Croce and Hannah Morse-Croce of Belmont, Massachusetts have done.
Morse-Croce’s large family lives near Boston, while her husband’s family is in Garden City, New York. Before getting married in July, the couple would separate for Thanksgiving. Morse-Croce went to Long Island for the week before Christmas Eve and then took the train to Boston in time for Christmas with her family.
But this year they wanted to come up with a new plan. So they sat down and listed all the vacations that were important to them that involved travel. This included Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Fourth of July, which Croce, a 32-year-old software engineer, normally spends at his grandparents’ house in Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania. Morse-Croce, 27, a merchandise planner for a women’s clothing company, is often with her family in Chatham, Massachusetts.
They decided the only way was to alternate the years. So, they’re going to spend Thanksgiving and the 4th of July with the Croce family on Long Island, as well as the weekend before Christmas. They will spend Christmas in Boston with the Mors. Next year they will do the opposite.
The good news is that both sets of families were open to these changes. The couple and Croce’s parents will see “Funny Girl” on Broadway the Saturday after Thanksgiving, in what could be the start of a new tradition. “Louis plays the guitar and wants to bring his family tradition of playing music on Christmas Eve,” Morse-Croce said.
Another issue is giving. Does everyone in the family have one? Only the parents? Just the kids? Morse-Croce and her husband also talked about it.
For the first time in history, Morse-Croce’s immediate family agreed not to receive gifts; they are opting for a secret Santa instead. It’s also worth noting that not all gifts have to cost money or come in physical form, especially if there are budget considerations.
Winter believes that couples might nurture the primary gift recipients first, and then acknowledge others in other ways, such as with a handwritten note, a video card, or an experiential gift such as a home-cooked meal or visit. to a theme park.
“I like the idea of a blank canvas,” he said. “You had your life before you met, now is your chance to create a new template for the life you want to live.”
The same applies to social events. Instead of accepting every invite, now you have a chance to find out who you really want to see.
During the holidays, some friends or family members may “drink too much, act out, be a little too volatile,” Winter said. “This is where we need to refine what we want to experience together with our partner.”
Marcus and Ashley Kusi of Dover, New Hampshire, learned to set boundaries early in their marriage. Marcus Kusi’s family is in Ghana, where he grew up, and Ashley Kusi’s family is in Vermont.
The couple, who have been married for nearly 12 years, call themselves marriage mentors. They have written several books on relationships and host the podcast “The First Year Marriage Show.” During their first year of marriage, Ashley Kusi, 33, said she “drew him into everything. It was too much. We can’t be doing everything with everyone and not have time for ourselves as a couple.”
She decided to prioritize her relationship with her husband. Together, they have created their own traditions: driving around the neighborhood to look at the lights, making Christmas crafts and baking cookies. They celebrate Yule, the winter solstice, with their two young children, wearing matching pajamas and watching a movie or playing a family board game.
Zach Brittle, a mental health counselor in private practice in Seattle, said: “Couples need to learn, as soon as possible, how to play the long game.”
“One thing I tell couples all the time is if one of you wins, the relationship loses,” said Brittle, who also hosts the Marriage Therapy Radio podcast. “Can they start with an understanding and a commitment to compromise? When they can’t understand this, that’s what causes friction in counseling.”
Suggest that couples imagine taking a break on January 1 and reflecting on the past few months.
In the best scenario, he said, “they will be able to articulate that their pride will come from navigating a difficult time with empathy, grace and kindness. It’s not that they’ve gone to Mom’s or spent a lot or a little, or seen the Nutcracker sober.”
As for the Weisses, they are thinking about the traditions they will incorporate into their own home. Erica Weiss’s family didn’t go to church on Christmas Eve, but Aaron Weiss’s family did. They plan to keep the church in the picture. And, Aaron Weiss’s mom always baked homemade cinnamon rolls, and her grandpa “invented” a shortbread recipe that has been passed down to younger generations. That’s staying, too.
“Aaron’s family is known for their holiday baked goods and we’d love to keep that tradition alive,” said Erica Weiss.
Earnshaw recommends that couples allow the first few years of marriage to be about figuring out which rituals they want to keep from the past, which new ones they want to create together, and how they will commit.
“A newlywed couple may not have a lasting set of rituals,” Earnshaw said. “Because of this, they may not even be sure what they want to do on vacation.”
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