Maybe because certain songs have tried to convince us that the holidays are the “most wonderful time of the year,” it’s easy to forget that the holidays — no matter what you celebrate — can be super stressful financially, emotionally, and just generally. So, how do you deal with all of that plus a partner when you want to bring your significant other home with you? Well, we asked five people who have travelled home with a S.O. for the holidays about their experiences, and the best strategies for keeping the intimacy alive and the stress level low.
Don’t Let Your Family DTR
“Being around my boyfriend’s family can be stressful because his parents are pretty adamant about us getting engaged, and it only intensifies around the holidays when we see them. Our first holiday together was really stressful because I didn’t know if his parents’ feelings about our relationship would make my boyfriend either want to break up or get engaged, neither of which I wanted. It made us talk a lot about where we stood with each other and how we feel about our relationship. Now, we check in and make it really clear where we are with each other before the holidays so that we can just enjoy ourselves rather than worry about his mother’s comments. It makes me feel like I can really trust him, and we just laugh about whatever his parents say about us getting married afterwards.” — Grace
Take Time Alone, Even If You Don’t Think You Need It
“One way that my husband and I stay connected during a family holiday vacation is we always take time to be alone together during the day. No matter what, even if we’ve been out all day, we go back to our room to be alone for an hour or two before dinner. We’ll have sex or just relax, but it’s mostly to give each other a break from the family. It’s also a good time to address if there was any discomfort or stress with a situation or family member during the day, especially if you’re going back to that situation in a few hours. That way, you can figure out if there’s something you can do to make it better, and if not you can at least be sensitive to it.” — Hilary
Come Up With a Code
“My partner and I have certain code words and gestures that we use to communicate, and they very much come in handy when we’re with my family on a holiday. We’ll drop a signal if we’re uncomfortable in a situation — like if you’re stuck in an awkward conversation — so the other knows to come help without making a scene. We have little hand squeeze patterns that mean things like ‘I love you’ and ‘I want to fuck you right now,’ so it’s a cheeky way of flirting (and reminding each other how special our connection is) that easily and immediately makes any potentially stressful event way better.” — Erin
Yes, You Can Make It Sexy
“This might sound a little weird, but when I’m with my boyfriend at one of our family’s places for holidays, him and I usually get really turned on. I think it’s because I love seeing him interact with other people and seeing that they also think that he’s charming and attractive (which he totally is!). Sometimes there can be stress around figuring out how to stay sexually connected during the holidays, so we’ve made a bit of a sexy game around it — we keep it super PG, but we constantly find time to hold hands, hug, or sneak a kiss. When you’re in a family situation you’re not really supposed to do sexy stuff, so it makes something as benign as holding hands more exciting.” — Jane
Forget the Presents If You Want To
“My partner of five years and I always keep the pressure light when it comes to holiday gifts. We’re both at the stage in our careers where we’re hustling and not rolling in cash, so what’s the point of spending a lot of money on each other? We don’t put a lot of attention on getting each other big extravagant gifts because it just wouldn’t be fun if I spent part of the holiday season stressing out about what to get him and how to pay for it. So we just do small gifts and cards, and that works really well for us and alleviates at least some of the holiday pressure. If you’re big on gifts, it might be worth identifying and then dropping other stress-inducing parts of the holidays that you can live without.” — Laura
It’s OK to Put Your Family First Sometimes
“Everyone would like to spend time with their partner during the holidays, but sometimes you can’t or you’re not quite ready to bring them home. Making family a priority is absolutely acceptable — and I think that you should — but it can put stress on a relationship. I’ve found that making the effort to spend some time together around the holidays, and maybe even going to their hometown, is a nice gesture. Instead of worrying about spending that time apart, if you have a few days to visit your S.O.’s neck of the woods, even a week or two before the holiday you celebrate, it keeps you connected, plus it takes a lot of that holiday pressure off (you don’t have to meet the family or attend events together if you’re not ready to). When I visit a new girlfriend around holiday time it’s always very much appreciated, and we end up feeling like we’ve had a successful holiday before it even starts.” — Josh
Alanna Greco is a writer and editor living in New York.