With the holidays upon us, many couples will be planning the often complicated and stressful production of visiting the parents and siblings—not to mention aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and neighbors. You might be one of those fortunate lesbian couples who have not one, but two sets of loving family members who have been nothing but supportive since you first came out. On the other hand, going “home” often feels like entering enemy territory and being on unfamiliar turf. Whatever the case, the following tips should help you enjoy your time with your family, while minimizing stress in your relationship.
Even before you make your train or airline reservations or book the pet sitter, talk with your parents about expectations and needs. Brainstorm with your partner to come up with a list of questions to ask, such as:
• How long will you visit?
• Will you be staying with your family or in a hotel? If with your family, what about sleeping arrangements?
• Which family members and friends will be at the holiday gatherings?
• Have your parents made them aware that you will be bringing your partner/spouse? Are they accepting or judgmental of your relationship?
• Will you be expected to attend religious services while at your parents’/family members’ homes?
• Will your family members be getting holiday gifts for your partner?
• Will your parents and siblings be accepting of you and your partner needing some alone time?
• Will alcohol be served?
Once you know the details regarding the pertinent questions for your situation, tell your parents that you will get back to them and then discuss everything with your partner. Remember that your partner’s needs and the stability needs of your relationship take priority.
It’s important to take good care of your partner, yourself, and your relationship by setting boundaries. For example, if both of you have been inundated with relatives and socializing and need a break, say no to lunch with Aunt Sally and Uncle Henry. Be polite and considerate, and perhaps you can compromise by meeting them for coffee before you leave town. Or if the parents insist on you going to midnight mass, and you do not wish to attend, tell them no, but offer another option.
Every now and then, you and/or your partner might feel the need to vanish, to take a breather from the family. Here too, planning is essential. Perhaps you can give your partner “that look” or gently tug her sleeve to let her know that you’d like to leave for a bit. Not everyone is an extrovert; so being around many folks can be quite draining. Also, if alcoholism is a family issue, escape may become a necessity—especially if drunken family members act in an abusive manner. And if the worst happens and you and your partner are being treated disrespectfully, just leave!
You need time as a couple to re-group and reconnect. Whether it’s taking a walk or cuddling in bed, or even being sexual (a vote for a hotel since many folks feel inhibited having sex in their parents’ home). It’s important to weave in intimate couple time.
If this is the first time that your partner is meeting your family, make sure that you pay particular attention to her. Remember that you know most, if not all of the people there. She knows only you. So be sure to introduce her to everyone and to include her in conversations.
Overall, know that you and your partner can make the holidays what you want them to be. They can be a time of stress and dread, or a time to discover more about each other and a time to create your own traditions. So when visiting the family, be a team, cooperate, be patient, communicate in a respectful manner; and be prepared for anything. Show your family the strength and beauty of your love and above all, celebrate!