• Jason Wilkinson

Married During the Holidays? How to Survive the Demands of Extended Family Gatherings

Oh, the holiday season is upon us. And if you are in a serious relationship, then the holidays can be a point of stress. You may have different amounts of pressure or guilt being thrown at you from your parents to be present for the festivities. And the in-laws may be giving you the same amount of pressure.

On one hand, this is a compliment. Your family likes you! Celebrate that!

On the other hand, it’s is hard to please everyone. You don’t like to disappoint people and will bend over backward to try to keep from doing so. But the amount of stress produced to keep everyone happy is stealing some of the joy of the holidays from you. Or your relationship with your partner or spouse. And it might even be causing friction in your relationship.

So, if the thought of a Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration with family has got you feeling frazzled, stressed or anxious, here are a few tips to help you this holiday season:

Tip #1 — Know What You Want from Holidays:

Before you get much further into planning for the holidays with your family in mind, here’s a question to think about: What do you want the holidays to be like this year? Do you love being around people? How does your partner feel about family visits? Are you or your spouse more of an introvert who needs rest? Are you hoping for time with just each other?

Practice good listening skills and ask your spouse what they are hoping to get from the different holidays. Having an idea or plan for what you’d like to get out of the holidays is going to help you survive the different demands that family may place on you.

Tip #2 — Celebrate on Different Days:

If you have two extended families — yours and your spouse’s — that want to celebrate the holidays with you…well…you can’t be at two places at once. So, try negotiating. Can you spend Thanksgiving celebrating with one family, then the following Friday with another? Not only will this lessen the time crunch that you may feel, but you’ll also get two separate meals that you’ll actually be able to enjoy! And, you won’t have to feel guilty and try to skip out on dessert at any of the meals, either!

Tip #3 — Rotate Homes for the Holidays:

Here’s another one that is a fairly straight-forward thought. You can plan with your spouse to have conversations with the two families. Plan on spending Thanksgiving with one family, then Christmas with the other. Then, flip it around for the next year.

Tip #4 — Host the Holiday Yourself:

This is for those of you who love to host and would rather not leave the house at all during the holidays. You can invite people over to your house! You could drop some of the pressure from the holiday time crunch by simply declaring to the extended family that you make the best turkey. There might be a different kind of pressure involved then, but you won’t have to worry about giving your time away to traffic.

Tip #5 — Stay Outside for the Visit:

This may not help much if you live in Southern California or Florida, but you don’t live there. You live in Tualatin, or Lake Oswego, or Tigard. You live in Oregon. And it is currently 43 degrees outside as I write this. And it rains a lot here in the Portland Metro. So, this tip will be helpful if you want to keep the visit to twenty minutes or less.

Being that it is 2020 and Covid-19 is still with us, you can make a deal with your family that you’ll come and talk to them outside. Even as you’re reading this, you’re thinking about how awful that would be. Here’s the thing…your family will think the same thing. This means that your visit will be a short one.

Tip #6 — Do What is Best for Your Marriage:

I mean, you could go ahead and try to please everyone around you. After all, it’s the holidays. Right?

Of course, you’re more likely to finish up the holidays feeling exhausted and like you didn’t have any control over any of it. That’s unlikely to leave you feeling very merry. So, when it comes to you and your relationship, do what is in your best interest. Set aside some time to practice healthy communication to come to agreement on what that may be.

The most important relationship you have is with your spouse. That’s the person you have decided to journey through this life with. A helpful way to make it through the holiday season with a sense of happiness and joy is to center your decisions around what is best for you as a couple. Own your schedule. Own what will ultimately serve your relationship the best. And then enjoy it.


The holidays can be filled with stress and can actually be a great reason for couples to pursue marriage counseling. But this holiday season can be a great time for you. Especially when you intentionally reflect on and communicate what you want out of this time of year. It can be restful, celebratory, and family-oriented at the same time. You’ll just want to plan around how you can make that happen…and survive the holidays with the extended family.


Jason Wilkinson helps couples make communication a strength of their relationship at Wellspace Counseling. Wellspace Counseling is located in Tualatin, Oregon and serves the Tualatin, Lake Oswego, and Greater Portland Metropolitan Area.