Dear Carolyn: My significant other and I have been in a relationship for a few years. We both agree our relationship is headed toward marriage and have discussed the long-term future. We work great together and see eye-to-eye on almost everything — until we start discussing the holidays.
When I brought up planning for December holidays, my girlfriend stunned me with the news that I was welcome to join her and her family for Christmas but she is not open to spending it with my family right now. She said the fact that one of her relatives is ill means she wants to spend the holidays with her family for at least the next few years.
While my heart breaks for her (my grandmother isn’t in great shape, either), I’m also hurt that she is willing to forgo all holidays with me for years, except for when I make a compromise.
My usually very laid-back family is starting to express frustration that she doesn’t seem to want to spend holidays there; they’re a little hurt, concerned on my behalf, and think she is being “selfish.” But is it selfish of me to not compromise time with my family for our relationship so we can be together for holidays?
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She’s thinking and acting like a single person — which is fine for this year, for someone who still is in fact single, but it’s not fine for much beyond that if she is serious about being your life partner. To be half of such a partnership (a functioning one at least), she needs to feel ready to share these decisions with you, even if it means she sees a beloved relative for a random weekend in February instead of at Christmas one year, both because you’re due to see your folks and because you’re her family now, too.
It’s also not so simple as your declining grandma vs. her ill relative. There’s the possibility that, in the midst of her blocking out years of holidays for this one relative, an accident or sudden illness claims someone you treasure — or a different relative of hers — unexpectedly. How many future holidays do you owe to that possibility? To the basic enjoyment while you can of people you love?
Life is not as linear as we like to believe, and our choices will let us down if they don’t reflect that truth. A few weeks or even months of all-hands-on-deck attention to one side of the family or another is a typical challenge for a couple to take on, of course —but even that will dent a relationship if both parties aren’t on board. When you’re getting into years of denying one’s needs for the other’s, you tend to see the marriage erode, even when the couple agrees to this arrangement upfront.
Plus: You want a spouse who wants to meet your needs, as part of a commitment to mutual support. It’s normal for some people to lag a bit in arriving at this point of shared concern, be it because they’re young or new to serious commitment or the pre-aha!-moment product of an emotionally Darwinian childhood. But for the sake of your health, don’t just slide from eye-to-eye to marriage. Save vows for when there’s proof you have each other’s backs.
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