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Every family celebrates the holidays differently. That means each partners comes to a relationship with family members that inevitably place demands for time and attention, when both are running dangerously low. Also, running notably low, patience. So, the least bit of strain from outside a relationship coming in the form of pressure from in-laws can seem like an unbearable pressure. How do you keep your Honey’s family from being the straw that broke the camel’s back?

1. Sit down with your significant other and have a long, honest talk about what the holidays mean to the two of you as a couple.

If you don’t know what traditions are important to you, you will have no compass to know if you are getting off course. Think about what you want to teach your kids about Christmas and what activities are special to you. Write a list of the things you chose to make your couple or family holiday traditions. For example, my husband, oldest son and I had this talk over the weekend. We decided we want a holiday season that is more about experience then gift giving. We mapped out one holiday related experience a week from now until after the first of the year.

2. Now make a list of all the activities and functions your respective families have each year.

Highlight those that are perceived as attendance mandatory. See if any of the items on your list overlap, or is there something on your list that might be proposed as an alternative or a place you can include family. One way we did this was by opting out of the Christmas morning Santa grab-fest with my husband’s family, but inviting them to attend the zoo lights festival with us on Christmas Eve. We all agreed that would be a tradition that all parts of the family might cherish for years to come.

3. Talk with your family in advance about what you can do and what you cannot do.

We had this talk with my family after Thanksgiving dinner. We made a special attempt to be clear about our expectations around what we want for the baby. We do not want a pile of presents. We came to the table prepared with suggestions about alternatives for gift giving that involved ways to spend time together.

4. Make sure you and your Honey have time alone during the holidays to decompress.

A holiday date can be very romantic. This is a no kids – no family event! One very romantic evening can go a long way to defray the stress of the season. My husband and I planned a romantic dinner in a restaurant where the local Christmas lights parade goes by. Little one is staying with his big brother. They are planning their own little date!

5. Be prepared to stand firm with your boundaries with family.

Practice makes perfect. Keep putting your foot down. If the time you have set aside for family interaction is Christmas dinner, don’t budge when Mom calls and demands that you bring the kids to Christmas Eve services. Smile, be sweet, but be firm. You’ll be glad you did.