How to avoid holiday misunderstandings

Must-read cheat sheet for couples

Ah, the holidays! Most of us envision shared fun and good cheer. It's a wonderful feeling to go into the season of togetherness, knowing you have a special someone to enjoy it with.

Unfortunately, the holidays can be as stressful as they are merry. No matter how much you have in common with your beloved, you may have different ways of viewing this time of year. Whether the sound of "ho, ho, ho" is sacred or annoying to you is largely based on your upbringing. These different world views can cause unnecessary holiday strife.

Here are 5 holiday misunderstandings -- and the best ways to avoid them.

"I didn't know we were exchanging gifts!"

When this scenario happens at work, it's embarrassing. When it unfolds in your living room, there can be hurt feelings. We attach all sorts of meanings to gifting. Maybe homemade presents meant the most in your family, but your partner takes the DIY approach as careless, rather than caring. Perhaps gift giving for you involves a personal act of service, like breakfast in bed, and the love of your life is more materialistic.

The best way to avoid feelings of resentment in this area is to be clear upfront. The challenge is that surprise is a part of the fun of giving and receiving gifts. Don't say, "I don't care about gifts," if the exchange means something to you. Most of all, remember that no one is obligated to give you anything. Be grateful that you are loved.

"How can you hate the holidays?"

You want to turn your home into a winter wonderland, but your sweetie considers tinsel a nuisance. If the holidays for you are all about tradition, you might feel at odds if your mate is a Scrooge. Before you begin decking the halls, come to a compromise about what is acceptable.

Do you really need baby reindeer in every room? Let your partner know clearly what your holiday intentions are and create a small way for them to participate. There are no right answers; only what you both agree upon.

"Do we have to go to church?"

Perhaps you haven't seen a church since your baptism, but Christmas in the pews is an important tradition for your boyfriend. If your fiancé is all about Hanukkah and you're strictly non-sectarian, this is not news to you as a couple, right?

Respect each other's backgrounds by sharing traditions. Comprising not only shows mutual respect; it's the only way to have a successful relationship. Empathize with what the religious ceremony means to the other person. Come on, attending midnight mass won't kill you, but it will show your love that you are in it for keeps.

"I thought we were visiting my family."

Where to spend the holidays is a huge area of contention. The only way to have peace in this area is pre-planned alternating.

Thanksgiving with his family one year and with your family the next is one approach. Christmas brunch with your husband's parents in the morning and Yuletide dinner with yours in the evening is another approach. Don't fall for guilt trips from any party. Everyone's family is equally as important.

"Why didn't you tell me your brother was coming?"

Your brand new bro-in-law expects to couch surf in your living room "for a while." You would have enjoyed advance notice, but the brother and bags are already at the front door. Whoops!

Some families have open door policies when it comes to the holidays. If anyone shows up unexpected, this can be a major dilemma. Before this happens, establish a rule that any guests must give advance notice, and you must both approve. If the family member is already there, make accommodations as best you can, but you are not obligated to host them indefinitely.

As for uninvited dinner guests, sure, it's a bother but make room. His Aunt Ida may always have something snarky to say, but don't be a Grinch. There should always be space at the inn -- for at least 24 hours anyway.

The holidays are all about love. Communicate openly and often to make sure that your relationship survives "the happiest time of the year."

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