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Surviving the Holidays for (Interracial) Couples

The holidays are here! This time of year can be really exciting, full of light, cultural traditions, loving family members and a ton of stress. Most people struggle to navigate this stress. For couples, this time of year can be a bit tricky: Whose family do we visit this year? Do we stay home and invite both of our families? Is this your first holiday together? Or perhaps you’ve been sharing holidays for a while now and you’re tired of feeling anxious and overwhelmed by your partner’s family.

For interracial and intercultural couples, things may be more complicated. You might struggle with microagressions or overt racism from your partner’s family members or you may be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing when you’re submerged in your partner’s family traditions. These are common experiences for mixed couples and you’re definitely not alone. This is when you really need to listen to your partner! If your partner tells you that they are uncomfortable or if your partner expresses fear and anxiety about responding in the wrong way, let them know that you are there for them. Take a moment to remember what is important to you and your relationship. A long lasting relationship is fueled by empathy, and validating your partner’s experience can mean the difference between a healthy relationship or one weighed down by distrust and disconnection.

Here are some additional tips for making sure this year’s holiday season is different.

Talk before the big day. Sit down and remind yourselves how much you love each other and how the two of you are a team! Discuss boundaries that are important and you both plan to maintain. This means that you’ll both have to be honest with each other and yourselves about how you want and deserve to be treated by others. *For more details about establishing boundaries with loved ones, check out Lindsey’s last blog article. Then, list all of the expectations your family has about the time you will be spending with them while you are visiting; talk about which ones are important to you and which ones cause you to feel anxious. Is there room for compromise? Also, how will you signal to each other that you need a break or need to check in? Going for a walk together is a great way to rally and remove yourselves from the action.

Action time. So you had a great conversation before the big day and now you’re really in it! You’ve been holding fast to your boundaries and you’re feeling good so far. You’ve been pretty satisfied with how things are going and you’ve been able to let a couple of microaggressions toward you slide because your partner’s family has been pretty great so far. All of a sudden that one uncle with the racist and sexist jokes comes in the door and you feel yourself take a deep breath. Of course, he makes a tasteless joke and you tell your partner who tells you “he’s just kidding.” Deep breath! You’re probably feeling invalidated and frustrated and you are struggling to give your partner the benefit of the doubt because you’re tired and overwhelmed. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that this person loves you, and try again. This time, let your partner know that you’d like to go for a walk (code for “let’s take a break.”) and when you’ve got your partner outside, let them know you’re feeling frustrated. Take the moment to remind each other about your boundaries agreement. If you’re the partner on the receiving end of the frustration, the best thing you can do in this moment is believe your partner. Empathy is the best gift we can give to each other, especially when our partner is feeling upset or overwhelmed.

Debrief. Now that you’ve both made it out alive, relax! Take some time to decompress by doing something you’ve been craving and weren’t able to do during the family chaos: go to the gym, catch up on your shows, get back to your knitting, cook a really healthy meal, or order out from your favorite restaurant. Then, when you’ve had a minute to breathe, check in with each other about how things went. Were you able to communicate effectively? Do you feel like you were able to reinforce your boundaries or maybe even establish new ones? What would you like to do differently next year? Don’t beat yourselves up if things got a bit messy. You’re learning how to do things differently from what you’ve been doing in the past and change takes time.

If your relationship needs a little more support around these issues, give us a call at 720-577-5994 or email us at Crystal specializes in issues that affect interracial/intercultural couples and currently has opening for full fee and reduced fee clients.

The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).