Holidays are complicated. At first glance, it would seem they are simply a time reserved to celebrate the respective events and spiritual beliefs with family and friends. But upon closer examination they represent so much more.
Holidays also serve as an annual relationship evaluation of sorts. Think about it. You see, holidays have a very subtle, but powerful way of informing us about the exact nature of our relationships with friends and family. When the holiday is drawing near we slowly become much more aware of the exact nature of our connections with friends and family. In some cases we eagerly anticipate reconnecting with family and friends that we don’t see enough of during the year. Or in other cases, we find ourselves planning and scheming ways to avoid certain gatherings and the pain of seeing this person or that person.
All of the unfinished business in our relationships has a way of slowly revealing itself during the holiday season. Similar to how the cool air of autumn slowly and predictably chills into the cold winds of winter without our really noticing until suddenly we feel very cold. Whether we experience the guilt of not spending more time with those we love, grieving the death of a loved one who we won’t be seeing, or dreading the pain of having to spend more time than we want with those to whom we feel obligated – holidays will serve as an unrelenting reminder of exactly what is going on with our relationships.
How we respond to these symbolic events reveals our own priorities, values and feelings about our various relationships. For gay men and women in relationships, struggles often begin to brew around this time of the year as each partner is deciding how to celebrate the holidays together while also seeking or avoiding time spent with our family of-origin. These struggles, of course, are not unique to gay couples. Heterosexuals must negotiate these details too!
What is different, though, is that when a heterosexual couple marries, the family-of-origin typically expects the new couple to celebrate holiday’s together. That is after all what couples do, right? The struggle is about where the two of them will go, not whether or not the two of them will go together! And I’ve never heard a married couple fretting about where they’ll sleep (different or same bedrooms) when they visit family.
I can’t recall a single incident where a married woman said to her husband, “Honey, I wonder if we should sleep in separate rooms so my parents won’t be uncomfortable.” Have you? Same-sex couples often negotiate by saying “you go to your family’s, and I’ll go to mine.” The real message being, “you make your family happy and comfortable and I’ll make mine happy and comfortable.” And then there is the whole population of same-sex couples who are not “out” to their families at all, which almost guarantees a distant holiday (even if celebrated together as a “friend” who has come home with you).
Whatever the exact nature of your situation, I suspect you can relate to the notion that holidays will challenge even the healthiest of same-sex couples to create boundaries that are designed to protect your relationship with your partner, rather than your relationship with your family. I often refer to the process of shifting your focus from protecting your family of-origin, to protecting your partner relationship as “growing up.” Growing up means separating from our parents and making choices that affirm our adult lives and relationships. What are your priorities as you move into this holiday season? Have you made relationship-affirming choices for yourself and your life?