Dear Meredith and Readers:
I'm in relationship with my boyfriend of a year. We love each other very much and work well as a team. We are in our 40s, divorced, and have teenage and young adult children from our marriages. Since we are cohabitating, this will be our first holiday season together as a family unit.
I adore Christmas and everything about it, as do my kids. Ever since his divorce and loss of anything other than weekend visitation, he absolutely dreads Christmas and everything about it.
He has struggled with bipolar disorder and emotional issues since he was a child (which he acknowledges and controls to the best of his ability, and which I know I can't fix and I have no control over) and he's taken to completely isolating himself for the entirety of Christmas Eve/Christmas as sort of a defense mechanism.
Obviously, I would love for him to be a part of at least some of my family's traditions, and to include his children in mine as time constraints allow, but I don't want to leave him in an even worse emotional spot than he would have been in if I left him alone to isolate. I know that he has a penchant for agreeing to do things just because they make me happy, but I don't want him to participate to his own detriment, especially if it will trigger a depressive episode.
Is there a compromise to be had here, or should I just act "single" for the duration of the holidays and let him alone to do what he feels he needs to do?
– Hoping for Good Cheer, MA
I believe there's a compromise. Maybe just one meal or activity during the 24-hour holiday. You don't have to demand that he participate -- just ask. Explain that it can be a simple, quick breakfast in front of the TV. If it doesn't feel right, he can always retreat to his isolation zone.
I also recommend suggesting a new Christmas tradition. This is your first year in the same house, so maybe your activity list has to change a bit. Maybe this year, you all go to the movies so that you're isolated and quiet together. It's worth talking to him about what he might actually want to do that day. If it were a random Wednesday off from work, how would he celebrate?
You can remind him that as the kids get older and move around, these routines will change. You two are the unit now, so you might as well come up with just one activity that's just yours. Maybe it's a midnight dessert in the bedroom. Maybe it's an early-morning walk. It can be the simplest of activities and it doesn't have to involve everyone.
(And perhaps this goes without saying, but if he's seeing a professional, he should talk to that person about coping mechanisms for the holidays. It's an uneasy season for so many people. It's time to ask for help.)
Readers? Should she ask or just leave this alone? What’s the right way to ask? Any ideas for a compromise? Help.