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Sane Family Gatherings

Bringing all the family together can be extremely rewarding, but it can also test the relationships of all those who are present. Here are four tips that can help minimize the negative impact that family and family gatherings can have on your marriage.

 1. Have realistic expectations.
Most couples have an idea of what types of issues are likely to annoy them or hurt their feelings when the whole family gets together. It is important to realize that in most situations, you will each be more patient with your own family. You and your spouse will likely each be more excited to spend time with your own family. This is logical. However, often people are not realistic enough about how they or their spouse will feel about family and family gatherings or unrealistically expect things to be different than they were before. Change your expectations, and you and your spouse will be better able to take the irritations in stride.

2. Open the lines of communication.
In anticipation of family gatherings, talk with your spouse about what sort of things you may face and how you can understand what may cause issues for her. If you go into the events knowing what may or may not cause issues for your spouse, you can prevent dealing with ramifications. If there have been problems before, talk with your family members and set boundaries so that similar problems are less likely to occur in future. In most situations, families get together because they want to enjoy each other’s company. Educate them if something upsets you. Be open, honest, and patient. They will likely appreciate knowing how to help make things more comfortable for you and your spouse. If a problem arises, nip it early.

3. Avoid the temptation to smooth things over.
Smoothing is the term I use to illustrate when a person tries to fix things between their family and their spouse. For example, when your spouse’s feelings are hurt by one of your family members (even if it was unintentional), it is tempting to try to diffuse the situation by explaining that your family member did not intend to hurt your spouse’s feelings. You may also try to help your spouse look at the situation differently so that your family member is not put in such a bad light. You may think explaining that to your spouse will help him feel better. The reality is that you may make the situation worse. Your spouse may feel that you are taking the side of the family member and that your family of origin is more important than he is.

A better way to deal with the situation is to listen to your spouse and validate what he experienced. You don’t have to agree with his interpretation. Do your best to put your feelings of loyalty to family on the back burner.

4. Put your marriage first.
If you are faced with a situation where you have to side with your spouse or another family member, choose your spouse every time. I hesitate to talk of it like you have to take sides, but the reality is that if your spouse’s feelings have been hurt or you decide to spend too much time with your family instead of your spouse’s, your spouse may feel that you are taking sides. Protecting your spouse protects your marriage. You may need to spend less time with your family than you want and more time with your spouse’s family than you want.

Family is and should be the greatest joy in our lives. That is why it is so great to get together and celebrate the birth of the Savior together. Following the tips I have provided can help you and your spouse happily navigate potential negatives you may face so you can truly feel joyous about your family and your spouse’s family.
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