Dear Rabbi,

Every year, we go to my in-laws’ house for the holidays. They are nice, but they are very formal, while my family is more laid back, and so I sometimes feel a little uncomfortable when I go there. Also, I have a lot of younger siblings that still live at home and my husband complains that they are loud and messy. On the other hand, I want a turn to go to my parents’ house this year. I don’t want to start an argument with my husband, but what can say to him?

Stuck Between Two Sides

Dear Stuck Between Two Sides,

Your situation is surely one which many of us end up grappling with, but keep in mind that those who preplan and proceed cautiously have the greatest chance of overcoming this challenge successfully.

In many circles, young couples follow a rotation system of sorts, alternating between one set of parents and the other for the holidays. Understandably, in situations where no fixed arrangement exists, problems can arise.

As with all delicate family dilemmas, it is impossible, and counterproductive, to lay down a one-size-fits-all rule. We can, however, offer a few ideas that should be kept in mind during the decision process.

Toward the beginning of the Book of Devarim (6:18), the Torah gives us a general and somewhat vague command: “Ve’asita hayashar vehatov – You shall do that which is straightforwardness and good.” Our sages interpret this verse as referring to “compromise, and extending beyond the letter of the law” (see Ramban’s commentary to this verse). Thus, the Torah here establishes a requirement to compromise and show flexibility in our relations with other people. The importance of peaceful compromise is further emphasized by the prophet Zechariah (8:19), who concludes his statement foretelling the joy of the final of redemption by instructing, “And you shall love the truth and the peace.” We can understand from the words of the prophet that the joy and blessings of the final redemption are drawn closer by conducting our affairs with ourselves honesty and peace, and by expending efforts and making sacrifices for the sake of avoiding conflict.

Of course, there are various overriding factors that need to be considered. For example, sometimes either the husband or wife, or one of the two sets of parents  going through a difficult time, requiring that the pattern be adjusted one way or the other. At times there are needs of the children which must be met and demand some change as well.

Additionally, personal preferences should be reevaluated to determine the prospects of flexibility. Perhaps you and your husband can have a candid discussion bringing up your discomfort with his parents’ formality and his dislike for your siblings’ rowdiness, so you can come to terms with the less-than-ideal settings and reach a mutually acceptable compromise. My impression is that you can both agree that neither holiday arrangement is perfect, and that you both acknowledge that  many things in life are not perfect. By speaking out your preferences and concerns, you will both be in a better position to put things in their proper perspective, setting the stage for a workable compromise.

But my most important piece of advice to couples embroiled in a disagreement is for each to convey the message that he/she is taking the needs and concerns of the other party into serious consideration. Show your husband that you are not simply out to get your way,  rather you seek to work together with him to find a solution that addresses both your needs and his. Emphasize that as concerned as you are about your reasons for wanting to spend the holidays with your parents, it is also important to you that he enjoys this special time of year. Naturally, if  you have tried working things out together and failed to find a solution, you can often benefit by consulting with a wise and caring third party whose opinion you both respect.

Yet as previously explained, the most important thing is that you tackle this problem together as a team, and as long as you are both sensitive and attending to each other’s feelings, you can rest assured that you will both enjoy a festive holiday atmosphere regardless of where you spend it, and you both will then have come out as winners.

With warm wishes and Torah blessings,

Rabbi Yechiel Elbaz