Couple therapists and parenting experts at Tavistock Relationships are advising people to get organised for Christmas now, to avert stressful situations which could lead to arguments with partners, parents, children. and siblings when the festivities begin.
Sarah Ingram, who leads Tavistock Relationships highly-successful programme to reduce parental conflict, says: ‘We all know that glossy images of happy families depicted in the media at Christmas do not tell the real story. The build-up to Christmas can create serious tensions, which unchecked may come to a head on the big day. As most celebrations were cancelled in 2020, many families are facing more pressure this year than in previous years. These festive emotional outbursts can rock couple relationships, upset children and create long-term tension with wider family members.
‘Getting organised early can mitigate against challenging Christmas pinch points and reduce the chances of conflict. We’ve listed some suggestions to help people manage their relationships – and everyone’s expectations.’
Where are you going?
Throw out any ideas of spontaneity and consult with your partner, family and friends to work out where you will be on the key dates – Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. If you are ‘in-demand’, negotiate, and if your partner wants a quiet Christmas and the kids want a party, compromise. If you’d rather not have your in-laws on Christmas, invite them for Boxing Day. Aim to get these decisions made and agreed before the advent calendars are opened, so everyone knows what’s happening.
Agree how much you want to spend
Presents, decorations, food, drink, markets, pantomimes, ice skating – it’s amazing how much cash you can burn through in the two weeks over Christmas. So agree some kind of budget, and give friends and relatives a heads-up if you’re thinking about cutting back. It’s easier if everyone is on the same page, so no one feels like they’ve over, or under spent.
If you or your partner is going to shoulder the burden of cooking for the day, what is the other one going to do to help? Although Christmas dinner is really only a Sunday roast, the pressure to deliver multiple side dishes and endless sauces and condiments turns it, invariably, into a cooking nightmare. This ‘chef’ role is a simmering cauldron just waiting to boil over into a Christmas row, so show some support: make the lists, do the shopping, unload the car, defrost the turkey, or at least do the washing up.
Alcohol, especially if one of you is drinking and the other isn’t, can be a catalyst for quarrels. Look ahead at the events where you would like to drink, and when you would rather not, and agree with your partner in advance so no one feels hard done by. If things do kick-off, try to avoid starting, or engaging in any arguments while either or both of you are under the influence. Take a deep breath, step back and see how it feels in the morning, when you’re both sober and the hangover has passed.
Take the pressure off everyone
Sometimes in a bid to create the ‘perfect Christmas’, we not only put pressure on ourselves, but also those around us. The burden of having to be happy and thankful all day can weigh as heavy on the recipients as the giver. Get ready to smile if your nephew dismisses your carefully chosen magic set, and laugh politely if the present from your partner is not the grand romantic gesture you were hoping for. Prepare yourself in advance, if you do, it is less likely that these inevitable disappointments will spoil the Christmas season.