COLUMBIA — When Dustin and Neesha Michael married in June, they had already developed a plan to deal with the sensitive issue of holiday visits.
This year they went to Dustin's family in Cape Girardeau to spend Thanksgiving. Christmas will be with Neesha's family in South Carolina.
Next year, they'll switch.
For newlyweds such as the Michaels, holidays often mean negotiation. After the wedding, they may face another complex set of questions: Which family gets them for Thanksgiving? Christmas? When will they be allowed to spend it together, alone?
Dustin Michael said no one could have prepared them for how stressful and difficult it is to divide holidays among parents. The Michaels had to compromise, but it has weighed heavily on all the families.
"I think it's going to be rough on my mom," said Dustin, 31. "This is my first time being away for the actual day of Christmas."
In the future, especially if they have children, Dustin said he would like to host family holidays here. But he doesn't "see it happening for a while."
Randee Shenkel, a clinical psychologist with the Center for Family and Individual Counseling, said by e-mail that newly married couples need to adjust to unfamiliar traditions. It is predictable that one will find the other's celebration "all wrong."
Luke and Natalie Freeman, both 20 and students at MU, also had to strike a balance before their first holiday season as a married couple. They married in August.
This year, Luke's family requested the couple for Thanksgiving. Luke and Natalie agreed to spend Christmas Day with her family, but they will be visiting his family a few days before Dec. 25.
"It just works out that we're both from Arkansas, so that makes it an easy trip," Natalie said.
Last year the couple spent Christmas Day with their respective families, but Natalie visited Luke's family on Christmas Eve.
"Luke and I have talked about this a lot," Natalie said. "It's kind of difficult negotiating with family on when you're spending the holidays together."
Because she and Luke are young, their families have had a difficult time accepting that their own child won't be present for the holidays. Natalie expects it to become even more difficult when she has children; families always want to see grandchildren.
Shenkel advised couples to keep a sense of humor.
"Remind each other that, of course, we can work this out, we are best friends, we are on the same side and this is supposed to be fun," she wrote. "Those are some ways to bring about some comfort and joy in the midst of the holiday season."
One way to take the holiday back is to do special things together before getting wrapped up in family.
"We're trying to establish Christmas traditions of our own right now," Natalie said. "But when it's deciding what to do Christmas Day, that's when it gets a little difficult."
The Freemans have their own Christmas tree in their own house, and they plan to exchange gifts together before joining their families.
The Michaels are trying to find ways to establish traditions of their own as well. They bought a special ornament for the two of them, went to the Magic Tree and hosted a holiday party for friends.
"We're trying to own it before we become part of the bigger celebration," Dustin Michael said.