The Holidays: How to Avoid a Family Feud

‘Tis the season to be merry… except when unwelcome family feuds intrude upon all the merriment! Newlyweds especially often have to deal with unhappy parents and in-laws questioning their plans on where to spend the holidays. Do you visit his family, her family, both families? And how long do you stay? We asked Deanna Brann, Ph.D, an expert on mother- and daughter-in-law relationships and the author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law for some sage advice.

reluctantly related

According to Dr. Brann, couples want to please everyone but typically end up pleasing no one and feeling awful about it. And parents often ignore that now, as a married couple, you and your spouse want to create your own family traditions. What to do? Here’s what Dr. Brann suggests to help you navigate the holidays:

► Before even considering your different families and what they want, sit down with your spouse and decide what the two of you want to do. (This is not about doing what your families want you to do, but instead, ask: If you could do anything you want, what would it be?)

► Once the two of you have agreed on your plan, talk through why it makes sense to you — in other words, discuss the rationale behind what you’d like to do. You want to feel confident about what you’ve decided and know that it is something you really believe — that way, if you're challenged by a family member, you'll feel secure in your plan and will be less likely to waver. 

Determine what you won't compromise on, even if family members become upset with you. For example, if you always spent Christmas day with your family, you may decide you now want to spend the day at your own home and invite both families if they both live nearby or, if travel is involved, alternate from year to year.

► Then let your families know your plan. Remember, these holidays are your holidays, too. You are entitled to do some of the things that matter to you — and your families will adjust.  It's a matter of setting new parameters.

Dr. Brann also advises that you tell your families long before the holiday season gets underway — the earlier the better. You do not need to defend your choices, but you do need to share your choices in a kind, loving and compassionate way. Explain to both sides of the family that, because the two of you are now a family, you want to create some holiday traditions for yourselves, and this is how “the families” fit into it.

It may take a little getting used to for your parents to accept your plans, but as time goes by, they will become more accustomed to the new tradition. They just want to be included and feel they’re getting equal time in some way.

Even if you have a fantastic relationship with your fiancé’s mom, you’ll still appreciate the terrific tips on how to nurture a loving relationship with your future mother-in-law in Dr. Brann’s book, which is available on and Check it out, and have a stress-free, family-fun holiday!

—Diane Forden