One thing young American couples have in common is that in the first years of their marriage, they usually continue past Christmas traditions with each other’s families, often going back and forth from year-to-year or in one day if they live nearby, as the young bride and groom have not yet stepped into the stage of life where they become the matriarch and patriarch of their own family. Since our families come in all shapes and sizes, we will be dealing within a range from the most unregimented, accepting, free and easy families to the rigid, nasty, boundary-less, rule-filled and judgmental kind. So, each new spouse needs to have an awareness of what they are dealing with, and that is why a pre-visit conversation should take place between the young pair that includes:
1. Understanding home family customs, traditions, expectations, and foibles. What are the family’s quirks and eccentricities? What do they love, what do they hate? Are they generally accepting of others? Should certain subjects be avoided? A discussion on how the visiting spouse can have the best time and have the most successful visit should be discussed.
2. Will we stay in the home with the family? If there is any question of how the new spouse will be treated, hotel, Air BNB reservations, or a request to stay at someone else’s house should be made. Protecting your new spouse from your family is a huge bond builder and is what any spouse hoping to have a thriving marriage must do. Think this way: I value my spouse’s comfort over my family’s, because when your married, your spouse comes first.
3. Home spouse must lay the groundwork prior to the visit with their family. The home spouse should speak with his/her family prior to the visit and get the lay of the land, set expectations and boundaries, and if necessary, let their family know that no family funny business will be tolerated when it comes to the visiting spouse. Treat the spouse respectfully, period. Once there, if the family blames, judges or negatively interacts with the new spouse, to their face or behind their back, the home spouse will always protect, defend, and side with the new spouse. If anyone talks to the home spouse about the visiting spouse negatively, the conversation is immediately shut down.
4. Do not succumb to home family pressure and control. During the visit, the couple should make decisions together about what they want and are willing to do, and then the home spouse is the spokesperson who sets the boundary. I strongly believe that if you are not able to set boundaries based on your partnership’s best interest, you aren’t ready to be successfully married.
5. Remember the Golden Rule. The wise old biblical rule of, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” is a wonderful guide to use when in doubt of what to do.
6. If it doesn’t go well. If, despite all your efforts, you and/or your spouse have a miserable time, don’t return a second time. Seriously. Part of growing up is to be able to stand in opposition to your family when they do not treat you and your family right. When you can do this, it means you are growing up.
By now it should be obvious that in a new marriage, a new spousal unit must be protected at all cost. A visiting spouse must have certainty that no matter what goes on in the home spouse’s family, he or she will have their back. At the same time, a home spouse also needs to know that the visiting spouse will also be kind, open, friendly, pleasant, respectful and helpful to his or her family while there. If you married someone where this is a concern, then good luck, because personal self-control and diplomacy are two qualities that help make marriages work, and lacking those qualities is a predictor of bad things to come. Also, I have seen spouses in my practice who insisted on the holidays being spent at their family’s house always, and they were not flexible on the subject. This presents all sorts of problems that are deeper than just the holidays alone and speaks to the person’s emotional immaturity, so sometimes the holidays show us who are spouse really is, or isn’t. Luckily, immaturity is a fixable thing.