IIf you're in the midst of a new relationship this holiday season, you may find yourself with an opportunity to introduce your significant other to your family. However, you are likely pondering a number of reasons why the holidays might not be the right time for such an introduction.
The holiday season is often considered the most wonderful time of the year, but that's not necessarily the case for everyone. In a recent survey by American Psychological Association, 41 percent of U.S. adults said their stress levels increased from November to January compared to other months of the year. Nearly 50% of Americans also described their stress level during the season as “moderate.”
Everyone has different worries before Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year's — from family drama at the dinner table to petty fights with your mom about decorating. With events that can be stressful, it just begs the question: do you really want to include your partner in the mix? While it's important to introduce your loved ones to your partner, relationship experts believe there are some discussions you should have ahead of time, especially during the holidays.
Speaking with The Independent, Raquel Zar — a licensed marriage and family therapist at Spark Chicago Therapy — recognized that while every family is different, there are a variety of issues that can arise during the holiday season — mostly because we put so much pressure on ourselves to have joyful holidays. “I think whenever emotions run high, with the holidays certainly being one of those times, our expectations are very high,” she said. “We hope it will be a joyful, happy and perfect occasion. So sometimes we forget that the holidays bring a lot of stress.”
Despite tensions between relatives at the dinner table, that doesn't mean your relationship shouldn't be celebrated. Saba Lurie is a licensed marriage and family therapist at Take Root Theapy in California. She explained to The Independent that while there is no right or wrong time to introduce your partner to your family, the intentions of such an introduction must be clear. Not only should you have already discussed the direction of your relationship, but you should also tell your partner everything they need to know about your family.
“I think you should tell the person why you are bringing them home for the holidays so that you are on the same page about the intentions and what is driving the decision to include,” she said. “Sometimes it can be helpful for them to know about the dynamic they are entering into and how they can best support you. Frankly, they should be aware if there is tension or stress in their family.”
Pre-vacation communication goes both ways, and there are things your family should know about your significant other, too. “If there's something about your partner that might be surprising to your family, or if there's a notable difference from someone you've brought home before, tell your relatives about it,” Zar said. “Let’s set your family and partner up for success.”
Before you bring your significant other home for the holidays, you can express to your family how you want them to feel included — like incorporating your partner's family traditions into your own celebration. However, Zar advised against over-sharing information before Christmas. You still want your family and your partner to connect in person rather than hear rumors about each other.
When it comes to introducing your partner to the family, there's still some extra planning to do in advance. If you're traveling this month, you may need to decide on sleeping arrangements – rather than residing at your parents' house – to minimize family stress.
“It would be really helpful to talk ahead of time so it's clear what you're agreeing to and what you're not agreeing to,” Lurie explained. “For example, if your family isn't comfortable with you bringing someone home and sleeping in the same room, then you and your partner can stay somewhere else. But these would be conversations that you all need to have together. It really depends on your relationship with your family and your partner.”
It's also important to talk to your partner while spending time with your family. These check-ins can include some quality time together so that any family drama that may arise doesn't put a strain on your relationship.
“I recommend taking your partner aside and saying, 'How are we doing?' Like a temperature check,” she added. “These are points where the two of you can come and remind each other, 'We're a team in this.' Or the two of you could go for a walk and separate yourself from the family, just for a little time to reset your relationship.
During the holiday season, your partner may see how you interact with your family for the first time. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, according to relationship experts. “I think introducing a significant other to your family is a really vulnerable act, and that vulnerability will be what allows for greater intimacy,” Lurie said. “When your partner sees you with your family, they can see another side of you that they may not have had access to before.”
On the other hand, your partner may learn that your relationship with your parents and family is complex. This isn't necessarily a cause for concern, as long as you inform your partner about how your family dynamics work.
“I think we tend to be our best relational selves when we really work to understand all of our past relationships,” Zar explained. “You might say to your partner, 'I don't have a close relationship with my brother and here's why. Here are the intentional choices I made in this regard. Or you can say, 'Here is my chosen family. These are the people who are important to me. Your partner will see that you have been introspective and will take lessons from how you navigated your family background.
As long as you and your partner have discussed your relationship expectations — both before and during the holidays — introducing them to your family can deepen your relationship and be a step in the right direction. Or it could have a simpler meaning – holidays are an opportunity to bring together two important people in your life and get to know each other.
Regardless of what your relationship is like with your family, deciding how and when to introduce your partner to your loved ones is entirely up to you. “I don’t think there will ever be a perfect time for people,” Lurie said. “I think it will depend on the relationship between the two partners and also on family dynamics, and what is most comfortable for all parties. I don’t think there will be a right or wrong time for the introduction.”