New ways of doing Christmas

20 November 2015

Whom to spend Christmas with torments so many of us year on year. A Relate survey shows that 90% of us would like to spend Christmas with immediate family. Only 54% think that including extended family members is a priority.

It gets more complicated when family members have different ideas about who these important ‘nearest and dearest’ actually are.

Deciding who to spend Christmas with can be a major source of tension in relationships, especially where families are trying to cover all angles.

At Relate, we often see people who have felt enraged by an ex-partner having somehow ‘manipulated’ offspring into spending the Big Day with them.  Of course, underneath the outrage is often terrible sadness and feelings of abandonment and failure.

Children can get anxious too if they are asked to choose which parent they want to spend the day with, and our counsellors often see children who feel they can’t please both parents. To deal with these painful feelings, sometimes  they show their distress in behaviours regarded as difficult, even abusive.

Often problems about Christmas arrangements arise when, after years of going along with the same tried-and-tested routine, someone wants to make changes. This is often the result of life-stage themes, such as children leaving home, one family member feeling fragile following ill-health, or simply thinking it’s about time the mould was broken.

A change of scene at Christmas may be just what the family needs, but do it too suddenly and it can also create difficult dilemmas which are made worse if people don’t communicate effectively.

Often at the bottom of this distress is the genuine concern that if we make changes to our plans, someone who may have previously relied on us will be hurt and possibly alone. The fear of loneliness at this time of year is heightened – an Age UK poll shows that nearly 400,000 people over 65 in the UK are worried about being lonely over Christmas.

Here are some pointers that may make this problem a bit easier:

  • Be realistic. You can’t please everyone. Neither can you, or should you, take on vast swathes of extra work trying to achieve the impossible. So, if it falls to you to do most of the sorting out, it might be helpful to start talking about what feels do-able sooner rather than later. This often means that more people’s opinions can be canvassed and considered before a decision is made.
  • It’s usually better to make change gradually. People can often accept minor changes that become part of a new way of doing Christmas, so it’s less of a shock to the system.
  • If you have a difficult relationship with an ex-partner (or a current one), it helps to have tricky conversations about any arrangement away from other stress. Finding time to connect, talk and listen to their thoughts and feelings within a neutral environment can be a really powerful way of reaching a reasonable agreement.

If you’d like to meet one of our counsellors face-to-face to talk through relationship issues why not give us a call now on 01234 356350



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