Holidays as a First Responder Couple

Holidays as a First Responder Couple

The holiday season is in full swing! And if you are in a committed or serious relationship, you may find you and your partner fighting about how to celebrate the holidays. Add to that the fact that you are a first responder family and BOOM! Unsolvable chaos!

But the holidays don’t have to be the bane of your existence. In my marriage, my husband has a love-hate relationship with Christmas because of the drama around scheduling with a first responder schedule. 

Maybe you can relate: pressure from family to celebrate with them on their schedules, guilt for having to figure out a different schedule, stress that you can’t make everyone happy. Maybe you used to carry the load of stress trying to meet everyone else’s expectations. Maybe now you just pick up all the extra overtime to avoid even having to go (kinda like that movie Four Christmases with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn).

Or maybe you actually love the holidays, but get stressed because you have so many places to go and people to see and just not enough time!

I can bet that this holiday planning becomes a point of contention between you and your spouse. Here are a few tips you can try to alleviate some of those tiffs in marriage:

  1. Know what you want for the holidays. 
  2. Celebrate on different days. 
  3. Rotate homes each year.
  4. Host the holiday yourself.
  5. Do what is best for your marriage. 


1. Know what you want for the holidays. 

Whether you have finalized plans or not, you need to ask yourself: What do you want the holidays to look like for you and your partner this year? Whether you have kids or not, your relationship with your spouse needs to be a priority. 

Do you love to be around people while your partner needs to limit their social time? How do you and your partner feel about family visits? Are you hoping for time with just each other? 

Ask your partner what they are hoping for the holidays this year, and practice using helpful listening skills while they share. When you both have a clear idea of what you are wanting this holiday season, you will be better able to think about the big picture as you make decisions. 


2. Celebrate on Different Days.

When you have multiple families that want to celebrate the holidays with you, you have to realize that you can’t be in two different places at once. And sometimes, traveling to lots of places on one day is just too much for your family. 

This is where your responder negotiation skills can come in handy! Negotiate with your family about celebrating different days with different people. Can you spend Christmas with one family, and then the weekend before with the other family? 

Not only will this ease your stress and anxiety around time crunches, but you will actually be able to enjoy your time with each family! 


3. Rotate Homes for the Holidays.

This one is a little harder to establish with families who have poor boundaries, but it can become normal if you stick with it. 

Both you and your partner will need to have a conversation with the families (either all together or each one separately). Plan on spending Christmas with one family this year, and then rotate to celebrate with each family each year. 

This is not to say that if your parents are not on the rotation this year, you can’t see them! But on the holiday weekend, there is no expectation of you to be at your parent’s Christmas breakfast. 

I get it, this one is really hard, But believe me, if you can stick to it, your family will adjust and then actually like the years when you are able to spend more time with them than a couple hours, especially if you have little ones. 


4. Host the Holiday Yourself. 

If you love having people over, host the holiday yourself! You can invite all of the families over to your house. Not only will it be clear for your families, but you will not have to give half of your holiday weekend to traffic. 

You may feel a little pressure to clean up and deliver a good ham, but at least the pressure of the time crunch and pressure of going to all the houses won’t cause stress your relationship! And you can always work on how to keep the pressure of your own expectations from draining the joy of the holidays for you and your family.


5. Do What is Best for Your Marriage.

So this is where you need to decide. Are you going to focus on pleasing everyone around you just because it is the holidays? Or are you going to focus on keeping your sanity and the sanity of your spouse? 

One option will leave you exhausted, worn out, and bitter towards your family and the holidays. The other will help your marriage make it through the holidays with a sense of joy. 

The most important relationship you have is with your spouse (yes, even more important than with your children). Own your schedule. Own your time. 

I had a couple tell me that they had to stat a new family tradition with their kids because of the family drama causing conflict in their marriage. Every year, they spend Christmas in a cabin at a lake with no one but their kids, and it was the best thing they did for their family. 

You gotta do what is best for your relationship and then enjoy it!


The holidays do not have to be the bane of your existence! It just takes knowing what you want or need, and communication in your marriage and with extended family. 

I hope you find ways of enjoying the holidays without losing your mind!


Merry Christmas, friends!

Alisha Sweyd, LMFT

Alisha is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is also the Director and Co-Founder of Code 3 Counseling. Alisha specializes in working with first responder couples. You can contact her through our website. 

*This does NOT apply to people in domestic violence relationships. If you or your spouse are being put in physical/emotional danger, you need to seek crisis support services, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

If you find that this exercise or these conversations brought up some stuff you are struggling with, either individually or in your relationship, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for help. We are here to support you, and we understand that this can be a challenging issue to face. 


And always remember, it may be your battle, but you don't have to fight it alone.