How did the holidays work out for you and your gay/lesbian lover, partner, spouse? How stressful was the time spent with the in-laws or with your own family? If you are among those who right now are busily trying to bury their holiday grudges, I have a question for you: WHY?
Why is it so tricky to be with your lover and her family? Why is it so hard to bring her home to yours? And why does this happen every single year sans fail?
Here are the main reasons:
1. In with the old, out with the new?
When we go home, we return to an old way-- our family-way -- of being. We slip back into the habits of communicating with our folks that we have known from childhood onward. Family awakens early memories and childhood patterns of talking, acting and feeling. We slip into the familiar glove of being a child in our family, automatically taking on its demands, entitlements, language and rules. Think of it as comfort food, making you feel warm and nostalgic-- but it's not really you.
2. Who is this stranger?
Our lover looks at us in this frame, this family setting, and doesn't quite recognize us. Who is this person who suddenly behaves like an infant? Has tantrums? Suddenly can't peep a word or utter an opinion? Who watches my every move with the suspicion that her mother won't approve? Who suddenly forgets that I am there while she is the center of attention and the great entertainer for everyone? Who looks up to her dad who is a woman-hater and agrees with everything he says? Who is this person who allows my parenting skills to be called into question- aren't we a team?
3. It really IS a two-way street.
This often goes both ways: both lovers don't recognize the particular stress they are under - holiday performance stress - and resent that their performance isn't up to snuff. We don't easily acknowledge that most families don't allow us to be "normal" the way we are in our private couples life. So we suddenly feel like strangers who stare at each other in dismay, wondering: Why can't she be normal? Shouldn't she have outgrown this by now? The truth of the matter is: we may never outgrow our family patterns and family stress. But we can help ourselves and each other to avoid the alienation, the grudges and fights that are so often the outcome of holiday visits.
4. Implement the 5 P's: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
Here's a trick that helped my with my lovers that you're welcome to put into practice:
Before a family visit, we would agree to play out a "worst case scenario," a fantasy game that would call up all the monsters we dreaded. One of us or both would narrate how the visit would go down as a nightmare. "They'll once again serve the turkey I can't eat even though they know damn well I am a vegetarian. I'll be mad at you for not stepping up for me and just sitting there, looking sheepish. Your grandmother will insist I take at least 3 servings of her horrid Christmas pudding and I'll be sick the rest of the day. Your sister, the high and mighty lawyer, will again needle me about the thesis I never manage to finish and you won't defend me because you agree with her, in fact. Worst of all, they'll have us sleep in the kid bedrooms, two separate rooms for God's sake. Everyone will drink and I'll have to pretend this is fun! But you'll find it fun, no matter what, and that'll get to me, so I won't be able to stop myself from starting an argument because that's at least honest."
5. Strategize: Two heads are better than one.
There's a good chance that the reality will seem less monstrous than the fantasy yarn we had spun beforehand. Everything may seem more bearable, even funny when our predictions came true by the letter. We've already established that we were together in this, confessing some of our true fears. We've worked out some understanding and next, some strategies to prevent the worst. Strategizing in a playful manner makes it much easier to maintain our sense of humor in the situation and provide support for each other.
In short, it's a strategy game. With all the resolutions you'll add to the list--how about placing a priority on easing holiday grudges and looking forward to more family cheer in the new year?
To learn more about being emotionally well-equipped for family visits year-round, check out Lesbian Marriage: A Love & Sex Forever Kit