For many married and committed couples, the decision of how to celebrate the winter holidays is a difficult one. Should we visit my family or yours? Stay home? Escape on an exciting vacation, avoiding the family scene altogether?

It’s crucial for couples to create their own holiday traditions. Whether your calendar includes religious holidays or simply the usual family time together, you need to talk honestly about expectations, wishes and fears.


Many of us travel to be with family during the holidays, so you may relate to this couple’s story.

Joan and Robert had been driving hundreds of miles to visit Joan’s family every December, no matter how difficult the weather became. It created a lot of stress for Robert, who resented the long trek. The kids were unhappy because they wanted to be home with friends, free to attend school activities and parties. Joan felt guilty, sensing how unhappy everyone felt.

One year, the weather was just too awful to make the drive. Joan’s parents were sad but they understood. Though it was a last-minute decision, the kids were excited they could attend the school pageant, other parties and the family celebrated a quiet Christmas at home. They were all amazed at how different the experience felt – and how much fun it could be to enjoy a holiday “staycation.”

The following year, Joan and Robert talked about their plans well ahead of time. Together they decided they would not be making the long drive again. After doing a little research, they noticed that for some people, the holidays last until February 2nd – known as Candlemas Day – which meant they could visit family later in the season and still enjoy Christmas at home.


If you are the parents of grown children, you can take the lead in putting your kids’ needs first. Couples, who make it clear that they’d love to see their kids and grandkids, but leave the decision open, create a sense of freedom for everyone involved. They may choose to travel to where their kids live, or simply stay home and leave the door open for an optional visit.

Many grandparents tell their grown kids that the only requirement is clear communication. Knowing whether family will visit during the holidays and how many to expect lets them make solid plans. Some holidays, they may welcome the whole crew plus a few friends. Other holidays, they’re by themselves, and their kids know it’s good either way.


If you do decide to visit family this holiday season, talk with each other about what you hope will happen. Try to anticipate issues and work through possible solutions.

Here are some tips for reducing stress at the holidays:

  • Think of the holiday as a season, not a single day. This takes the pressure off, since you can get together the day, week or even month before/after the “big day.”
  • If you’re staying with family, consider renting a hotel room nearby so you can escape from time to time.
  • Develop a secret signal between you that means, “Get me out of here now!”
  • If there are holiday traditions you truly hate, talk them over – and see if there are ways you can modify them or at least survive them together.
  • Plan some field trips to nearby attractions to break up the routine and prevent boredom.
  • Support each other in finding ways to keep from falling into childhood roles with parents. Though it’s natural for this to happen, you can help each other remember that you’re adults now and can enjoy a comfortable, grownups-to-grownups relationship.


Janae Munday, LCSW, a skilled therapist in the Phoenix, Arizona area, has years of experience in helping couples create strategies for dealing with the pressures of everyday life. If the holidays are a reminder of conflicts and unmet needs in your relationship, don’t hesitate to call Janae for help.


The Spruce