The main problem Erica and Aaron Weiss face this holiday season: whether to hide a bear or a pickle ornament on their Christmas tree.
It’s not as peculiar as it might sound. The couple, who wed in October 2021, grew up in families with ingrained holiday practices. In Erica Weiss’s family, the children hid a tiny ornament in the form of a teddy bear on the tree. In the few weeks leading up to December 25, each sibling took the knick-knacks to a different location. The last person to do so was allowed to open the first gift on Christmas morning.
In Aaron Weiss’ family, one of his parents hid a pickle ornament somewhere in the house. The person who found it won $10.
Of course, whites living in Smyrna, Georgia can honor both traditions. And their ornament dilemma is certainly not as tense as, say, deciding where to spend Thanksgiving and who to put on a gift list. Still, it’s part of the craze known as “merging the new family” during the holiday season. And it can get complicated.
“Each individual has a different idea of what this holiday means,” said Susan Winter, a relationship expert in New York. “A partner’s idea of Christmas might be about massively decorating the house, putting lights on everywhere, giving gifts, while their partner wants to stay home with eggnog.”
Therapists often earn their second home during this time of year as tension (and blood pressure) reach boiling point. It’s understandable: many newlyweds are now struggling with two or more sets of families with different values, customs, and assumptions. The stress of splitting or merging old traditions combined with the expectation of attending or even hosting multiple events can make for a less-than-merry holiday season.
Perhaps at no time is this more pronounced than in the first year of marriage, “an official transition from the child in your nuclear family to the head of the family you create with your partner,” said Elizabeth Earnshaw, a marriage and family therapist in Philadelphia.
And while they look forward to starting a new life with their own rituals, both partners may be torn between the loyalty to their family of origin and that they are building with their spouse. Their families, in turn, may have some level of “unacknowledged resentment that their brother or sister or child has someone else’s priority attention,” said Eli Mayer, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist in New York.
So how do married couples survive their first holiday together? And how do you prepare for the common pitfalls, such as B. Choosing where to celebrate, welcoming your family for the first time, budgeting for gifts and events, and domestic dramas?
Discuss vacation plans in advance
Experts emphasize the importance of communication, establishing firm borders and, most importantly, the appearance of a unified front.
“Ideally, couples get through the holidays by sitting down and figuring out what’s most important to each individual,” Earnshaw said. “Often this requires each spouse to talk to their respective families about what has been decided.”
During these conversations, she suggests that couples use “we” rather than “I” terms. So instead of blaming your spouse for refusing to participate in the annual Dreidel Spinning festivities at your parents’ house this Hanukkah, it’s better to just start with a succinct, “We’re going to do our own thing this year.” do at our house. ” (Yes, it’s okay to lie on that one occasion).
However, couples should really work out the details of their vacation activities, which is what Louis Croce and Hannah Morse-Croce of Belmont, Massachusetts, did.
Morse-Croce’s large family resides near Boston, while her husband’s family resides in Garden City, New York. Before getting married in July, the couple split for Thanksgiving. Morse-Croce drove to Long Island for the week before Christmas Eve and then took the train to Boston with her family just in time for Christmas.
But this year, they wanted to come up with a new plan. So they sat down and listed all the holidays that were important to them and that involved travel. These included Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Fourth of July, which Croce, 32, a software developer, usually spends at his grandparents’ home in Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania. Morse-Croce, 27, a merchandise planner at a women’s clothing company, is usually in Chatham, Massachusetts with her family.
They decided that the only way was to switch years. So they spend Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July with the Croce family on Long Island, as well as the weekend before Christmas. They spend Christmas in Boston with the Morses. Next year they will do the opposite.
The good news is that both families have been receptive to these changes. The couple and Croce’s parents will see “Funny Girl” on Broadway the Saturday after Thanksgiving, in what could mark the start of a new tradition. “Louis plays guitar and wants to carry on his family tradition of making music on Christmas Eve,” Morse-Croce said.
Another issue is giving. Does everyone in the family get one? only the parents? just the kids? Morse-Croce and her husband also discussed it.
For the first time ever, Morse-Croce’s immediate family agreed not to give gifts; they choose an imp instead. It’s also worth noting that not all gifts need to cost money or be in physical form, especially when it comes to budget considerations.
Winter thinks couples could take care of their primary gift recipients first, and then acknowledge the other in other ways — say, with a handwritten note, a video card, or an experiential gift, like a home-cooked meal or a visit to an amusement park.
“I like the idea of a blank canvas,” she 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 invitation, now you have the opportunity to find out who you actually want to see.
During the holidays, some friends or family members might “drink too much, they’re misbehaving, they’re a little too volatile,” Winter said. “Here we have to specify 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 lives in Ghana, where he grew up, and Ashley Kusi’s family lives in Vermont.
The couple, who have been married for almost 12 years, call themselves marriage mentors. You have written several books on relationships and host The First Year Marriage Show podcast. During their first year of marriage, Ashley Kusi, 33, said she “dragged him to everything. It was too much. We can’t do everything with everyone and we don’t have time for ourselves as a couple.”
She decided to prioritize her relationship with her husband. Together, they’ve created their own traditions: driving around the neighborhood to watch the lights, doing holiday crafts, and baking cookies. They celebrate Christmas, the winter solstice, with their two young children, change into matching pajamas and watch a movie or play a board game as a family.
Zach Brittle, a mental health counselor in private practice in Seattle, said, “Couples need to learn how to play the long game as early as possible.”
“One thing I say to couples all the time is that if one of you wins, the relationship loses,” said Brittle, who is also the host of the Marriage Therapy Radio podcast. “Can they start with understanding and a commitment to compromise? If they can’t take care of that, it creates friction in counseling.”
He suggests couples imagine themselves lounging around on January 1 and reflecting on the past few months.
At best, he said, “they’ll be able to articulate that their pride comes from navigating a complicated time with empathy, grace, and kindness.” Not that they went to Mama’s house or overspent or underspent or that they saw the Nutcracker sober.”
As for the whites, they are thinking ahead of the traditions they will incorporate into their own homes. Erica Weiss’ family didn’t go to church on Christmas Eve, but Aaron Weiss’ family did. They plan to keep the church in the picture. And Aaron Weiss’ mom used to bake homemade cinnamon rolls, and his grandfather “invented” a recipe for butter cookies that was passed down to younger generations. That stays too.
“Aaron’s family is known for their holiday baking, and we’d love to keep that tradition alive,” said Erica Weiss.
Earnshaw recommends that couples in the early years of marriage should figure out what rituals they want to retain from their past, what new ones they want to create together, and how they want to compromise.
“A newly married couple may not have longstanding rituals,” Earnshaw said. “Because of that, they might not even be sure what they want to do on vacation.”
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