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Your First Holidays with Your Partner: Navigating the Angst and Glory

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We’ve all seen the rom-coms: That first holiday season together is equal parts magic and peril. Sure, there’s the romance of twinkly lights and snuggling by a fire, but there’s also the pressure of choosing a gift that says what you want it to and—gulp—meeting the family.

Whether you leap in expecting magic or proceed cautiously lest there be peril, you’re probably going to be only half right. Managing expectations and pausing to plan are the best ways to make your first holiday season together one to remember—fondly, not as a cautionary tale.

Plot out important events.

Sure, you’ve headed to Newfields for Winterlights every year since it started, but your partner might never have heard of it. They’re too busy anticipating their traditional post-NYE hike with friends. With a dizzying number of traditions, family gatherings, and social events on the horizon, prioritizing together can save a lot of strife. Extra points if you also prioritize alone time. This season can be a lot. Give yourself what you need to stay festive.

Naughty: Prioritizing your own traditions is natural, but it’s not going to help build your relationship. Be ready to give a little and try some of your partner’s faves.

Nice: Consider what your new partner will truly enjoy and let them off the hook for events that might be awkward. Sure, you love decorating cookies with your aunties, but if your partner wouldn’t fit easily into that small group, maybe that’s one for them to skip during this first season together.

Discuss the family stuff.

Holidays and families are intertwined for most folks, which adds an interesting element for new couples. Even if you’ve met the families, taking part in holiday traditions is a big step that can bring a lot of stress and the potential for hurt feelings. Does Uncle Phil relentlessly tease newcomers? That’s good information for your partner to know ahead of time. Will bringing a bottle of wine set the wrong tone with your nondrinking parents? Ditto. There’s no way to ensure a smooth and happy event with so many variables, but talking about what to expect beforehand goes a long way.

Naughty: Expecting your beloved to deftly navigate the ins and outs of family dynamics that have been in place for decades.

Nice: Providing a rundown of strong personalities or deeply held beliefs that might surprise your partner. And keeping an eye out for situations where you might need to jump in for a swift rescue.

Level-set spending expectations.

Traveling across a thousand miles to spend time with your partner’s family? It’s worth figuring out how those costs are going to shake out for each of you. Buying gifts for all the nieces and nephews on both sides? Maybe that’s one you split down the middle, or maybe you each handle your own family. Or—eep—maybe you argue about whether that’s even a reasonable expense or should be tossed now that there are 42 of those kids.

And perhaps most pressing: How much are you spending on each other? It’s a real bummer when one partner goes big on the KitchenAid mixer of one’s dreams while the other gives a love note and a homemade cheesecake—which would have been easier to whip up with the mixer, huh? Money brings stresses all its own, and those are in full effect over the season of buying—ahem—giving. Have the uncomfortable conversations rather than face the emotional aftermath.

Naughty: Leaping ahead of the conversation and buying gifts for your partner’s whole family before you know what’s expected.

Nice: Adapting your own spending habits to meet in the middle. Being open to new approaches to holiday spending. Replacing material gifts with acts of service, if that’s what your partner is into.

Hope for the best and prepare for . . . not the best.

Enjoy the festivities and celebrate your relationship every chance you get. Just make sure you have the important conversations and aren’t putting too much pressure on yourself, your partner, and your families.

This can be a time for you to draw closer and enjoy each other in the warm glow of holiday tradition (or at least the glow of holiday lighting). Relax into it without expecting too much and you’re most likely going to end up toasting the new year with smiles and anticipation of the next holiday season.