Splitting Holidays with In-Laws

Navigating holidays with both families can be tough, especially as newlyweds. This article offers practical tips to help you split holiday time and set boundaries.

When Britt and I came home for Christmas break during college, she wanted to spend time with her family and I wanted to spend time with mine.

This was fine when we were first dating...

Got a little harder when we were engaged...

And then peaked when were newlyweds.

Our families live 6+ hours from each other, so planning holidays were (and still are) a challenge, especially because both of our families love us and want to spend time with us.

If you're struggling to figure out holidays while you're engaged or newly married, you're not alone. Our goal in this article is to help you first understand why this is so tricky, and then provide some suggestions for splitting holidays and setting boundaries.

Why is this hard for couples and families?

For the first 18+ years of your life (maybe even longer!), you spent every holiday with your family. Whatever your parents did, you did. Whatever traditions your family had, you had.

Now that you're married and have created a new family unit, your family will have to compromise and be flexible... something that's totally new for them.

Add in the dynamics of "leaving" your family in other areas, and you can understand why splitting holidays can be a tricky topic to navigate.

Read more about what it means to leave, cleave, and become one here.

Sharing Time

The idea of "sharing time" can make holidays challenging as well. Where you used to simply spend the entire holiday with your family, they now have to "share" you with your spouse's family.

This can leave your family feeling a bit neglected and abandoned, even if that's not your intention.


This may also be the first time you don't live near your family. In our case, I (Kyler) moved 6 hours away from my parents to the same town as Britt's family. This was the right decision for us as a couple, but it did create physical distance between my family and I.

As a result, we have to be more intentional about how we split the holiday. We can't just go to my parents' for lunch and Britt's parents' for dinner.

New Complex Family Dynamics

If you come from a home where your parents are divorced or you have some other complex family dynamic, adding your spouse's family to the mix can make it even more complex and complicated.

If both you and your spouse are from divorced homes, you now are trying to navigate splitting holidays four+ ways instead of just two–which means someone is bound to feel like they're getting the short end of the stick.

Sacrifice & Compromise

One of the most common reasons this is challenging for you as a couple is because it may be one of the first times you truly feel the "sacrifices" of marriage.

When you're splitting holidays, you are absolutely going to have to give up some traditions or miss some time with your family... that's just how it works.

But it's definitely not fun. Maybe you loved baking cookies at grandma's on Christmas Eve but you can't do that anymore and still make Christmas with the other side of the family. (Or insert whatever other thing you may have to sacrifice).

How to Understand, Communicate, and Navigate Preferences

One thing I want to call out quickly is that you and your spouse are a complete family unit. This is why the Bible talks about what it means to "leave" your family and "cleave" to your spouse. While I wouldn't necessarily recommend this in all cases, if you and your spouse decided that you weren't going to split holidays and you were just going to spend time, at home, with each other... that's perfectly acceptable.

Why am I saying this?

Everything from here on out is about trying to figure out what you both want to do, together.

Your parents and siblings are not the decision makers in your marriage... you and your spouse are.

So ultimately, you and your new family unit get to decide what works best for you and then your parents and siblings can decide what works best for them.

1. Understanding Each Other's Traditions

First things first, you need to understand each other's holiday traditions. What does your family typically do for Christmas? How does your partner's family celebrate Thanksgiving?

Traditions will influence how each of your families view the holidays, so starting with these in mind will be important.

In my family, for instance, we would spend Christmas eve with my mom's side growing up... we'd typically go to church with my grandparents and then come home, open presents, have dinner, and play games with aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Christmas day was a little more lowkey with my dad's side who has fewer people.

Here are a few questions you can ask each other:

  1. What did Christmas look like for you growing up?
  2. What did Thanksgiving look like for you growing up?
  3. Are there any holiday traditions you want us to adopt?
  4. Are there any holiday traditions you want us to drop?
  5. Did you celebrate holidays on the actual day? Was that important to your family?

2. Communicating Your Preferences

From here, you should start to hear some preferences begin to evolve.

Maybe your family has traditions on Christmas day and your spouse's family doesn't... you may decide that these traditions are worth keeping so splitting the holiday is easier with that in mind.

After hearing about each other's traditions, take 5 mins and separately write down what you prefer to happen during the holidays.

From there, compare your list.

What's the same? What's different? Are there things that are super important to you? Are there things that are super important to your partner?

Going through this little exercise will allow both of you to fully think through, and then communicate, your preferences.

Here are a few examples of what that might sound like:

  • He wants to spend Thanksgiving with his family but doesn't mind if Christmas is spent with your family. Thanksgiving is a big deal to him!
  • She wants to make sure she can go to her home church for Christmas Even because she loves the candlelight service and all of her cousins go.
  • He wants to celebrate Christmas with his family on the actual day because that's important to his family.
  • She wants to see the Christmas light display in the neighboring town the week before Christmas.
  • He wants to bake cookies with his grandma the weekend before Christmas.

3. Share Your Plan With Your Family

As a new family unit, once you decide your plan together, you can then share it with your family.

As a quick note here: keep in mind that your parents are their own family unit as well with their own preferences and needs. You may need to be prepared that they can't go along with everything you want them to do just as you can't go along with everything they want you to do.

I would also add that this where you'll want to share what your plan is, but hold that plan loosely. Don't come in "guns blazing" and telling your parents what you are and aren't going to do. It should really sound something like this, "Hey mom & dad! [Spouse] and I are thinking we can do Christmas Eve at your house and Christmas day at her house. Does that work?"

Tips for Splitting Holidays

Here are a few tips for splitting holidays:

  1. Communicate early and often - let both sides know what you're thinking and ask them to keep you in the loop as they create plans.
  2. Combine families - we've had both of our families spend a holiday together (at the same time, in the same place). It was a lot of fun!
  3. Host - one of the best ways to get what you want is to host and have your families come to you.
  4. Be flexible - be prepared to adjust plans as needed to accommodate both families.
  5. Respect each other's families - show respect and appreciation for each other’s families and traditions.
  6. Be realistic - be realistic about what you can manage in terms of travel and time commitments.
  7. Set time aside for just the two of you - ensure you have some private time to relax and enjoy each other’s company.
  8. Celebrate at different times - if necessary, celebrate holidays on different days to accommodate both families (ie Christmas with your family the weekend before and Christmas with his family on Christmas day)
  9. Stand united - remember that you are ONE with your spouse. Make a unified decision and communicate that as one couple.
  10. Set boundaries - if necessary, set boundaries with your family around the holidays (download our Boundaries freebie below)


Splitting holidays with in-laws might seem daunting, but with a bit of planning and a lot of communication, you can create a holiday season that works for both of you. Remember, the goal is to celebrate and enjoy these special times together, no matter where you are. Prioritize your relationship, be kind, and have fun creating new memories!

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