I am headed toward Christmas hell.
I’ve been with my partner Amy for 16 years and it has taken my conservative, religious family years to move toward acceptance. They are polite but distant to Amy when they meet and my parents have never let me bring her home to our family Christmas. I’ve gone myself because I wanted to keep a good relationship with them in hope of their ultimately accepting us as a couple. This has created tension because Amy has felt like I was choosing my family over her.
Recently, my family has gotten more accepting. It helps that my teenage nieces and nephews have gotten to know me and Amy and think their parents’ and grandparents’ discomfort with our relationship is ridiculous.
This year, Amy and I have been invited to my parents for Christmas. My mom actually got teary and apologized for her past stance, saying that she is glad that I have someone special in my life. But Amy does not want to go because she is angry at my parents, my brothers and their wives for their unsupportive and critical attitude toward us all these years. She also tells me that she’s had it with my not spending Christmas with her because we are each other’s family.
I feel like Amy should go with me to my parents, because they’ve changed and now want to honor our relationship. If Amy doesn’t go, I think it will be a huge missed opportunity for all of us to start getting along. But she’s adamant about not going. Of course, if I go to my parents, she will be mad and if I don’t go to my parents, I’ll be increasing the distance between me and my family at a time when they finally want to get closer.
Any ideas about how I can bring everyone together?
Your situation is tough, and also pretty common. It can be really difficult to figure out what to do when your family and your partner are pulling you in two different directions, especially when you’re a person who works as hard to please others as you do.
No matter what you choose to do, at least one person is bound to be upset with you. The most important question is this: What do you want? Whose disappointment are you most willing to tolerate? And what fallout may be least destructive to what you cherish most?
It isn’t in your power to make everyone happy. Your family may or may not respect your choice to spend Christmas with Amy, if that’s what you ultimately choose to do. Likewise, Amy may or may not accept your family’s invitation to join them for Christmas and may continue to be upset if you choose to go alone.
The good news is that your family has come around, though not without cost: your relationship with Amy has taken a hit. Your story shows that it can sometimes be helpful to avoid giving people an ultimatum, choosing instead to stay close to them, tolerate your differences, advocate for what you’d like and hope that they’ll shift in your direction over time. It’s worth asking yourself whether you really took this stance in hope of ultimately changing your family’s minds or if you were actually choosing them over Amy out of fear or for some other reason.
An important first step is to fully understand Amy’s position. Learn as much as you can about why she does not want to attend your family’s Christmas celebration. Is it because she’s hurt? Seeking revenge? Or is she perhaps testing your loyalty?
Don’t try to convince Amy that she needs to forgive your family and join the celebration. Her anger is hers to have, and ultimately hers to resolve, if she ever wishes to do so.
If you want Amy to spend Christmas with you and your family, this is a prime opportunity to practice your influence skills. Though you have no guarantee of success, do your best to explain why it’s so important to you that she join your parents’ celebration.
Keep in mind that the holidays are a loaded season and Christmas is a short deadline for resolving a situation that has been evolving for years. In time, your family and Amy may be able to mend fences. In the meanwhile, you have a difficult decision to make.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.