11/24/2010 09:34 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Happiness May Mean Not Being Home for the Holidays

Thanksgiving on a tropical isle? Christmas Eve watching fireworks over the Caribbean? At a ski lodge in front of a fireplace on New Year's Day? Spending the holidays relaxing instead of stressed? Sound good to you? Yes!!

As the holiday season begins, the tension over family gatherings begins to mount. Husbands and wives get into unnecessary arguments over the upcoming get-together at a relative's house or the stress of having relatives come to their own home for the festivities. Memories of past holidays and "slights and fights" resurface.

Add to this mixture the emotional and physical exhaustion that accompanies it and you have the ingredients for a great holiday recipe -- the recipe for disaster.

At this time of year I always think of a couple I know who sail through the holidays without a care -- literally. They go on a luxury cruise or fly to a five-star Caribbean Island resort two days before Thanksgiving each and every year, staying for seven days. Both have demanding careers, and both feel the need to celebrate the holidays (the key word here being "celebrate") their own way without the problems, stress and unhappiness that being with relatives can bring.

I once asked them about going away for the holidays. What was it like? Did it feel festive, like a holiday at home? The response:

Festive? It is the most festive and the most fun because, unlike at home, we don't have to do a thing ourselves. Everything is beautifully decorated, the food is excellent, and there are people to cater to you. You can go to a party every night or just walk on the beach of the resort, or deck of the ship, and watch the stars and the ocean. It is a beautiful time of year for us. There are so many people who do this; some, like us, with their children already grown, and some families who come with their children. Everyone has a wonderful time.

The husband confided that going away for the holidays is the best thing he and his wife do. They had gone through the nerve-wracking in-law fights at holiday time for "way too long." The stress was affecting their lives and their marriage. They knew they had to do something different. Ten years ago they decided to put their relationship and themselves first and began escaping cold winters and impossible relatives for sunshine, peace and relaxation.

If we stop and think about it, what exactly do the holidays mean to us? Does it really have to mean nervous stomachs from putting up with rude relatives? Do we truly need to spend big time on gifts, make ourselves exhausted, and feel stressed out trying to please unpleasable people? Shouldn't the holidays mean something more than just "putting up" with all the craziness and suffering the consequences physically and emotionally?

The holidays should be a time to spend with the one you love doing what you love. It should be a time to enjoy life and relax. If you can manage it, a mini-vacation for the holiday season is a great gift to give yourselves.

But how do you deal with the in-laws and other relatives who feel (and sometimes demand) that you should be at home for the holidays? Here are some suggestions:

Announce your decision early, say, in September.

Be polite and warm but stand firm; some relatives may put pressure on you to reconsider. If you feel like giving in, remind yourself of past, teeth-clenching family gatherings.

Enough said?

Tell close family that the plans are made and not going to be changed.

If there are some relatives who feel insulted by your decision, and if these are the same ones who have made most holidays unpleasant for you, simply tell them, without hurting their feelings, that you and your spouse don't want the stress the holidays always bring for you. You both need to relax, alone together, this year. Don't say anything else and don't be drawn into an ongoing argument. This is your life, not theirs; don't cave in.

The word holiday itself comes from the words "holy day" and was originally reserved for personal refection in peaceful surroundings. It was a gift you gave to yourself, in order to find peace, life-balance and harmony. Whether the day is a religious one for you or not, it is a day that should make you and your spouse feel comfortable together.

If you and your extended families are among the lucky ones whose holiday gatherings seem like an episode of "The Cosby Show," then you are more than eager to have a family get-together. But if you're tired of family squabbles, nastiness brought out by over-imbibing and being the one who does all the work, consider making a change. Give yourselves a real holiday. The holidays are meant for you to enjoy.

Get away from it all and have a real holiday -- with each other.

To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at Kristen and visit her Keys to Happiness blog. Also, take a look inside her book, "And Then I'll Be Happy!" You may e-mail her at