I have never spent Thanksgiving with my S.O. of four years. We only have one shared Christmas to our names. We both get along great with each other's families, we have the means to make the trip to each other, but, nevertheless, we just don't see the need to make the holidays about Us, a Romantic Couple.
I didn't realise this was odd until I brought it up to other coupled adults — and incurred quite the line of questioning.
"Doesn't your family hate that? And what about his?"
"Don't you get lonely?"
"When do you exchange presents, then?"
These are fair concerns, if a little nosy. I had never asked myself these questions before, but hearing them sparked an even larger concern: Does celebrating the holidays without your partner spell doom for the relationship?
In a word, no. But, Matt Lundquist, LCSW, a psychotherapist and couples therapist based in New York City, tells Refinery29 that you should still give your reasons for spending the holidays apart a closer look.
"Some couples see holidays as more about the family they came from than the partner or new family they’re creating," Lundquist says. While others, he adds, might not find the holiday season meaningful to their relationship and don't mind flying solo for their family gatherings.
If you count yourself among the latter group, as I do, it might be useful to think about what time of year is meaningful to you and your S.O. Holiday traditions are often upheld within couples because sharing traditions in general can strengthen a relationship. Lundquist says no one is required to uphold a practice that they don't deeply care about, but having an event or celebration that you can look forward to with your partner can bring you closer (and make your decision to do separate holidays easier).
Of course, determining and agreeing upon your reason for spending the holidays apart is just the first step. Next, you'll have to share your plan with friends and family.
If you come up against criticism for your choice, Lundquist says to make your reasons as clear as possible — especially the fact that your holiday plans are the result of an agreement and not one person calling the shots. "Talk about the decision as a shared one," Lundquist says. "[One] that both partners made together and stand by."
But, beyond general scrutiny, there's a chance that your family (or your partner's family, for that matter) takes your absence particularly poorly. Most likely, Lunquist says, this is due to a difference of values: Maybe your parents believe holidays are an important part of any relationship and they're upset that those views aren't reflected in how you and your partner do things.
Keep this in mind if any conflicts between you and your family arise. Rather than responding defensively to their concerns, "recognise that you and your partner may simply do your relationship differently than others are used to," Lundquist says. Acknowledging that you don't place as much of an emphasis on the holidays as others will help diffuse the issue and make it more about a difference of opinion than anything too personal.
My partner and I have been lucky enough to avoid any familial conflicts (partly because we make sure to see each other's families throughout the rest of the year). But that doesn't mean our choice goes unquestioned. In the past, I'd skirt the issue out of fear of offending someone,. This year, I plan to take Lundquist's advice and tell anyone who asks, "You don’t have to understand it, but this is how we do things, we don’t mean any offence, we feel great about our relationship and you’re just going to have to deal." And then I'll promptly have my partner's gift shipped off to his parents' house.