How to Handle the Holidays As An Adult in a Relationship

I am a huge fan of the holidays, the spirit of the season and family gatherings. Of course, my holiday season looks very different than it did a decade ago. In the transition to an adult, and then an adult with a significant other, the holidays resemble a game of tug-of-war rather than joy, candy canes and pine-scent trees.

Let’s take it back to a few years ago – or the Christmas from hell, as I like to refer to it. My then-fiance and I spent the entire few days that we had off bouncing from house to house to house to visit all family, burned up gas on the highway traveling across the state and exhausted ourselves. More than that, I don’t think we even spent time together solo in front of the tree.

In an effort to do better, we revamped our commitments to the holiday. Here are my tips to you, if you find yourself in a similar boat.

Just Pick One Place to Go.

You most likely only have a few days off for the holidays — maybe even just Christmas day! If that is the case, pick a location and stick with it. To make everyone happy, my husband and I spend Thanksgiving with one family and then Christmas with the other, alternating every year. Yes, that means that one family does not see us on Christmas, but everyone gets quality family time and our full attention at some point during the November-December time period. We usually meet up with the other family in the weeks leading up to or immediately following the holiday to exchange gifts. Develop a routine so that each holiday season isn’t a question mark.

Pro tip: Be flexible and encourage your families to do the same. Perhaps one year, it just makes more sense for Christmas to be at one person’s house than another; be open to switching the holidays around, just as long as you try to give equal family time.

Spend Quiet Quality Time Together.

Find alone time. Yes, yes, the holidays are about family time and celebrating together and traditions are important. However, don’t forget that this may be your first Christmas together, your first Christmas engaged or married, your first Christmas in your new house, etc. You can’t redo these moments later on! Take the time to yourselves when you can.

Pro tip: Consider exchanging gifts in private to take your time, (relieve the pressure from family and friends watching you and eyeing your gifts), and of course, create your own traditions.

Over-prepare with Presents.

An extra gift is the key to happiness. I started doing this a few years ago and it has come in handy more times than I can count. Buying gifts for your significant other’s family can be extremely tough, especially trying to find something that is thoughtful and personal, but not too expensive, but not too cheap…you get my point. I’d highly recommend buying a “back up gift” in case your real present falls flat or your significant other’s family’s gift is a homerun and yours is…a foul ball. The back up gift comes out as a “I saw this and couldn’t resist getting it for you, too!” gift and, worst case scenario, if you don’t need it, keep it for yourself or give it to another friend or family member.

Balance Time with Family and Friends.

Negotiating time with friends and non-immediate family when you are home for the holidays can be a real struggle when you have your significant other with you. If your S.O. is comfortable with your family and doesn’t mind staying behind, you can dip out to grab drinks or the like with friends from high school. However, if you do not think your S.O. would be happy being left behind either a) bring them along! The more the merrier, and the holiday season is supposed to be merry and bright. Or b) wait to hang out with friends another time – your S.O. is spending the holidays with your family instead of their own, it’s best to show your gratitude and not ditch them.

Pro tip: Planning ahead is your best tool. If your S.O. isn’t comfortable being left behind and bringing them isn’t an option, know when you are going to be back in town and offer that as an alternative to hanging out with your friends.

Be Patient with the Grinches.

Despite the fact that joy and merry are plastered on most holiday-related wrapping paper and decorations, there is no guarantee that your family and friends will live by these words during the holidays. Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of being in a relationship during the holidays is that you may be missing out on your own traditions and time with family – or your significant other is. If one or more individuals are hell-bent on being cranky during the holidays, take a deep breath and let it go. No one wants a full-out, drama-filled Christmas dinner.

Pro tip: Previous to arriving, gently remind your family that your significant other is spending the holidays away from home in the hopes of nudging them to sympathy. Arm yourself with knowledge – does Grandpa get cranky when he is hungry? Keep snacks nearby. Does Aunt Karen need to share the story of Christmas of ‘88 before dinner or she gets crabby? Let it happen at the onset and move on.

The holidays are stressful – there is no magic formula to make everyone happy AND have a relaxing holiday. Just take a deep breath (and a gulp of eggnog) and you’ll make it to New Year’s.

Kelly Morrison Menk

Kelly Morrison Menk

When not writing, Kelly works as a communications associate at a nonprofit in Washington, DC. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Mary Washington and Master's in Communication from George Mason University. She firmly believes that running daily allows her to continue her serious Coca-Cola addiction without repercussions (no, Pepsi is not the same). When she's not working or fighting horrible DC traffic, you can find her sleeping, eating or attempting to train her two pups.
Kelly Morrison Menk

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