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9 Tips for Surviving the Holidays

A couple in a healthy relationship in front of a Christmas tree laughing with a dog.

Meeting your significant other’s family is nerve-wracking enough. Throw Christmas into the mix, and you’re dealing with a new level of stress. Follow these simple guidelines about surviving the holidays from Toronto psychotherapist and relationship advisor, Nicole McCance.

Tip #1: Don’t Come Empty-Handed

It’s always polite to bring an offering when you’re a dinner guest, but when it comes to your SO’s family, it should be a rule. Keep it simple. “Bring wine, dessert, flowers,” Nicole recommends. “Bring something, even if they say you don’t need to bring anything. First impressions are lasting and you want them to remember that you are thoughtful.” Want to go the extra step? Ask your SO about any allergies (food and flower). Intel on the front end will help you skip some otherwise embarrassing moments.

Tip #2: Ask Your SO About Sleeping Arrangements

Instead of assuming that you’ll be sleeping together, ask your SO about sleeping arrangements ahead of time. Parents are not dumb. They know you’ve probably shared a bed at some point, but parents are still protective of their kids and they might have their own ideas about sharing a bedroom before marriage. “If they say they want you in separate rooms, then respect that–their house, their rules,” says Nicole. If you really can’t stand to be away from your SO for a couple of nights, you could always get a hotel room but the ‘rents might be offended. Weigh the hotel option carefully.

Tip #3: Don’t Go Full-On PDA

Yes, you like to express your affection for your SO, but do you really need to play tonsil hockey in front of Aunt Bertha? No. “It’s important to be yourself, so if you’re an affection person then hand holding is fine,” Nicole says. “But, keep it to a minimum. Save the kissing and cuddling for home. You should be busy engaging with the family.” You’ll have plenty of time after the holidays to get cozy again.

Tip #4: Pitch In

Use every opportunity to make yourself useful. “It’s always a good idea to ask if the cook needs help in the kitchen,” Nicole says. “Being proactive will help you make a good first impression and calm your nerves.” If your forte isn’t cooking, pitch in somewhere else. Offering to help out conveys appreciation and will help you score points with mom and dad.

Tip #5: Adapt to Their Schedule

You like hot showers that last for days and sleeping in until noon. Great. But, when you’re staying at someone else’s place, you have to give a little in order to get a lot (which, in this case, is the respect of your SO’s family). “There is a balance between being yourself and investing in these new relationships,” Nicole says.  “It’s important to change up your routine if you have to. If everyone else is up early, get up early too. Go with the flow, you can get back into your routine once you get home.”

Tip #6: Take a Breather

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the tree-trimming antics and the awkward conversations with people you don’t know, you owe it to yourself – and to your hosts – to take a short break. “It’s okay to go to your room and take a breather,” says Nicole. “If you are spending the night and have your own room, it’s okay to close the door and relax on the bed for five minutes. Text a friend for support. Taking these mini breaks every few hours will help keep you pleasant and energized.”

Tip #7: Don’t Get Drunk

Sure, a couple shots of spiked egg nog might calm your nerves, but you don’t want things to get messy. “Keep it to a two-drink minimum unless you are socializing with drinkers and they offer you more,” Nicole suggests. “Try not to drink more then everyone else. Pace yourself.” Know your limits.

Tip #8: Set Boundaries

Obviously, your SO’s family will ask you all sorts of questions, some of which can get mighty personal. “It’s good to be open and transparent within reason,” Nicole says “The more open you are, the more open they will be with you.” Open dialogue is generally a good thing, but some folks can be pushy and downright nosy. “If you get asked a question you don’t want to answer, try turning your answer into a question,” Nicole suggests. “This is less obvious then it seems. People typically love speaking about themselves, so they will likely do just that instead of focusing on you.” Don’t be afraid to activate your backbone.

Tip #9: Don’t Get Involved with Family Squabbles

Every family has its drama. Since you’re the newbie, you shouldn’t butt in and assert your opinion, or even attempt to reconcile the family because, honestly, it’s not your place. “If there happens to be a heated argument between your significant other and his or her family, try to nonchalantly sneak away,” Nicole says. “Make yourself scarce. This way your SO won’t feel embarrassed for losing their cool in front of you.” And when everyone has cooled off, show your support for your partner privately: “Give them a hug. Let them know that it is normal to be triggered by family and that you understand. Engage in something fun or relaxing if you can. It’s the holidays after all. The faster you let it go the faster you can enjoy your much-deserved holiday.”

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