Is It Weird for Couples to Spend the Holidays Apart?

More couples today are embracing separate bedrooms and separate vacations. Why not separate holidays?

December 22, 2021 7:14 am
Side-by-side photos show a pair of feet in front of a fire place and stretched out on a hamock at the beach
Who says couples have to spend the holidays together?
svetikd, lncreativemedia

If you ever plan on dating me, there’s one thing I want to make very clear: I don’t want to spend the holidays with your family. This has much less to do with any aversion I may or may not have towards your family than the fact that I happen to be one of those rare if kind of uncool people who genuinely enjoys spending the holidays with my own (most of the time, anyway). 

Growing up as a usually single woman in a family of monogamists, I’ve spent many Christmases watching my sister, cousins and aunts and uncles juggle their own familial obligations with those of their respective partners. This seems to involve a lot of planning, travel, compromise and sacrifice during a time when I, personally, would much rather be chilling out and enjoying quality time/getting drunk with my own family, without having to factor anyone else’s into my plans. After years of watching family members alternate between their partner’s family and ours or rush off early to join someone else’s relatives for dessert, it’s gradually occurred to me that if ever I were to find myself in a relationship serious enough to have to make those compromises, I simply wouldn’t. 

Recent years have seen more and more couples embracing their independence as autonomous human beings within a relationship and recognizing the value of spending time apart, from sleeping in separate bedrooms to going on separate vacations. If we can acknowledge the benefit sleeping and traveling solo can have on the relationship itself as well as the individuals within it, why should spending the holidays apart be any different? After all, if you’re in a relationship committed enough that spending the holidays together is an expectation, you’re probably living together and/or spending a significant amount of time together. If you’re already spending every waking moment with your partner, what’s a few days apart while you pay your dues to your respective families? 

“I’ve actually been seeing more of this lately, including myself,” says relationship expert Marni Kinrys, founder of The Wing Girl Method and creator of The F Formula. “This year we are going to Chicago, my husband’s hometown, to be with family and I’m opting to leave early.” According to Kinrys, partners choosing to go their separate ways during the holidays is “something couples are way more open to and discussing a lot more recently,” especially amid the growing tensions and largely uninterrupted togetherness of coupled pandemic life. 

“Too much time together can cause irritation and stress on the couple, which is not healthy,” agrees Jaime Bronstein, a relationship therapist, coach and host of “Love Talk Live” on LA Talk Radio. “Humans aren’t made to spend all of their time together, so spending the holidays apart from each other is actually not a bad idea, and it can be healthy to have some breathing room.”

For some couples, spending the holidays apart just works better logistically. Cait, a 24-year-old from Boston, has been with her fiancé for over eight years, but they’ve never spent the holidays together. “In our early 20s, we are in the awkward in-between of still being the kid in our family’s eyes, but also an adult with a job, apartment, and long-term partner. Pair all that with a small apartment and roommates, and it’s easier to just go home to our parents,” she says. For the time being, it works for them. “We both aren’t ready to give up spending the holidays with our own families and don’t have a space for everyone to gather together yet.” 

Plus, for Cait and her partner, knowing they aren’t going to be spending the holidays together gives them a chance to plan a more intimate celebration before going their separate ways. “I do miss him on the actual holiday, but it is also nice to have that special time just the two of us and not have to open our gifts to each other in front of other people.” 

Liz, a fellow twenty-something from Boston, has also yet to spend the holidays with her partner of four years due to logistical difficulties. “His family lives two hours away, and three hours away from where I’d be spending the holiday [with my own family], so it would be quite a commitment — if not an impossibility — to just pop by for dessert or whatever.” 

While Liz does find that she misses her partner, spending the holidays apart allows her to spend more quality time with her own family and prioritize her own needs. “I love having the freedom to do whatever I want or need on a holiday,” she says. 

Aaron, a 34-year-old New Yorker, says he and his partner of 13 years spent the holidays apart during the first several years of their relationship, and would consider doing so again in the future. While he says they originally started spending the holidays apart because “neither of us see our families that often so we didn’t want to miss that time,” he grew to appreciate the healthy dose of independence that time apart granted the relationship. 

“I think it was nice to set a precedent that we’re not tethered to each other. We’re adults and don’t have to do everything together,” he says. “I will say I enjoy the independence during the holidays we don’t spend together. I like having the freedom to go catch up with friends in my hometown. I’m very extroverted and want to catch up with everyone I haven’t seen in a while, and it’s a lot easier to jump in the car and pop into the local bar without having to make sure my partner is having a good time.”

Meanwhile, some people might simply not get along with their partner’s families, or might be aware that their own family isn’t the best environment to subject a significant other. “The holidays can be difficult enough dealing with family, it’s even harder when you have to drag your significant other in,” says Aaron. “Holidays are often hard for both of us for different reasons. My family has a lot of alcoholism, her family has a lot of mental health issues. If you’re going home to that, maybe it’s best not to have your beau go.” 

For Kinrys, cutting holiday time with her husband’s family short is more about respecting her own tolerance level for other people’s relatives, no matter how lovely they may be. “It was difficult to tell my husband that spending ten days with his family is tough — not because they suck, but because for me, that much time in anyone’s home is a lot,” she says. “I need my space and my own time, and if I can’t get that, I’m a raving biatch from hell.”

Jess, a 27-year-old from New Jersey who has spent holidays both with and without her on-off partner of ten years, is also keen on limiting time with other people’s families. “Unless it’s borderline marriage serious or really, really casual, I have zero desire to spend holidays with someone I’m seeing, especially if it involves their family,” she says. “That might sound shitty, but I have little desire to see my own extended family, let alone spend time with someone else’s.”

That said, even if spending the holidays apart is the mutually agreed upon best course of action for you and your partner, that doesn’t mean it can’t have its downsides. While some alone time from your partner can definitely give you time and space to reflect on all the (hopefully) great things about the relationship, that clarity might just find you realizing you actually don’t miss your partner all that much. 

Still, if the end of a relationship is the conclusion your holiday apart leads to, chances are the relationship was already heading in that direction anyway. As Kinrys puts it, “Time and space give clarity.  So whether the outcome is good or bad, the truth will be revealed.”

Meanwhile, depending on your family dynamic and history of bringing a partner around, leaving them home for the holidays may raise some eyebrows. 

“It’s annoying when your family keeps asking why your partner didn’t come,” says Aaron, adding that he and his partner, who think of themselves as a modern couple “that doesn’t have to do traditional things,” get this question at a lot of events they choose not to attend together, including weddings and other gatherings where they’d traditionally be expected to bring their mate.

 For Liz, not spending the holidays with her partner “puts our relationship under a weirdly specific microscope at family holidays. We’ve both gotten a lot of, ‘So are we ever actually going to meet them?’”

Knowing that not bringing her partner to family gatherings tends to give the impression that the relationship isn’t serious, Liz says she’s started putting together what she calls a “brag book” of recent photos with her partner in advance of the holidays, “so family members can see that we’re real.” 

Ultimately, how you and your partner choose to spend the holidays is no one else’s business. “Do not feel like you need to explain your decision to your family and friends,” says Bronstein. “Honor how you are feeling, period. That’s all that matters. The people in your life who love you unconditionally will continue to do so and will support whatever makes you happy.”

And if enjoying time with your family away from your partner, or peacing out altogether and spending Christmas on a much-needed solo vacation, is what makes you and your partner happy this year, why not give yourselves the gift of not having to hang out with each other’s relatives?

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