Christmas is meant to be a happy, twinkly time of giving presents, getting together, and enjoying special moments with loved ones. Yet we all know that the festive season doesn’t always go according to our best-laid sparkling plans. Arguments and stresses and simmering rows – not to mention the pressures we put on ourselves to make everything perfect – can often turn those celebrations flat.
In our work as therapists, we know that Christmas is a time where emotions and expectations can run high. Pent-up feelings can boil over, even before the turkey is carved and the sherry is poured. That difference between shiny expectation and stressed-out reality means that arguments at Christmas can sometimes rumble on way longer than rows at other times of the year. Christmas is meant to be special, and it hurts when someone spoils it.
If this sounds familiar to you then read on to learn some tips on spotting the top relationship stressors at Christmas and how to pre-empt those awful rows.
1. Where to spend Christmas
As a couple, how do you decide where to spend Christmas? At home alone, with the kids, with your family, with the in-laws, at a local restaurant, somewhere hot abroad – away from it all? Whatever your personal preference, there may be certain family traditions and customs that you’re meant to observe. This can put quite some pressure on your relationship if you feel you’re the one always having to compromise because old Aunt Mabel won’t travel and you end up having to trek to the back of beyond each year to keep your other half happy.
2. Sharing the tasks
Who does the shopping, cooking, preparing? Who does the clearing up and washes the dishes? Who entertains the relatives in the front room? Some tasks may suit you more than others. Yet it’s amazing how many rows start because the person in the kitchen feels the other person isn’t pulling their weight, and the person in the front room feels the one doing the cooking is acting like a martyr and should just get on with it. Expecting your partner to be just like you, and wanting things the same way as you, can leave you feeling frustrated and disappointed. Expecting the other to do everything, while you laze on the sofa doing very little, is never going to work. Who does what can be a major stressor over the festive season.
3. How much is enough?
Common things that couples argue about is how much to spend at Christmas. Your childhood may have a lot to do with this. You may have come from a generous family where presents are gleefully piled up under the tree. Or your background may have been more frugal, with the family focus more on the spirit of goodwill than on giving expensive gifts. How much you eat and drink is another stressor. Someone who stuffs their face or drinks too much can be a major source of stress to the partner, leaving them on tenterhooks as to whether tensions will boil over because they can’t press the off button.
How to manage Christmas stressors
This can be tricky when feelings are heightened. Here are our tips:
- Negotiate in advance if you want to do something different from the norm. Have an open, honest conversation about your festive needs – and make compromises to meet those needs. Don’t dig your heels in. You can end up creating even more resentment and more grounds for rows. Be open to change.
- Take turns. Agree to visit family and friends on alternate years. One year you cook. The next year your partner does. Share the load.
- Play to your strengths.
- Take the pressure off yourselves. Christmas is just one day out of an entire year. Yes, it may mean a lot to you, but so what if not everything goes according to plan. Laugh about it. Let go of the need to be perfect.
- Get into the Christmas spirit. Enjoy being with the people you have in your life. Ignore their flaws for a day. Count your blessings.
If you need some support negotiating your relationship difficulties over Christmas and into the new year, give us a call. We have therapists who can work with you as a couple, if you’re seeking relationship counselling, as well as therapists who can work with you one-to-one. Give us a call on 020 8673 4545 or email us on [email protected]