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It’s not too late to deal with holiday stress

The moment school restarts in September, family counsellors, solicitors and relationship charities usually see their phones ringing off the hook. It’s because the family is thrown together, with expectations running high, and huge disappointment when things don’t go according to plan.

Often, though, it’s the fact that there is no plan which places so much pressure on families, and especially on couples. Off they all go, hoping that being in a pleasant sunny place will make everything wonderful when each member of the party has a different idea of what wonderful means.

Leaving it all to luck may cause problems year after year but, for some reason, we don’t seem able to anticipate what could go wrong and work out how to make it better. For instance, just packing and preparing to go, and then unpacking and putting everything away, can seem like a massive burden when you also have daily life and excited children to take care of. You need to be clear who is responsible for what and not build up resentment because the other parent doesn’t seem to be doing their fair share or, alternatively, is complaining about how much they have to do. This can get the holiday off to a terrible start, with a huge row brewing before you even set off.

You may think that how you get on reflects the health of the relationship, but it could just be that the relationship is under pressure because you are so stressed. A timetable for getting to the airport or making sure you are on the road before the traffic builds up is really helpful, for instance. The children may need an incentive to get moving, but you can speed things along by deciding which one of you is responsible for ensuring everything is ready to go the night before your trip. It’s too easy to just assume the other will be in charge or to let things go wrong in order to prove how useless the other parent is.

Remember this is meant to be a holiday, not a war zone. Half an hour spent discussing strategy in advance will be worth its weight in suntan lotion when you find you have a plan to deal with travel boredom, loo breaks, mealtimes, bedtimes and all the other times holidays can become a little stressful.

Be clear how you are going to spend the break too. It’s no good leaving it to luck. What do you all want to do and when do you want to do it? What have you got up your sleeve if it rains? Do you want to spend all your time together or will you split into smaller groups for some activities?

Don’t adopt polarised positions where plans are concerned. For instance, if one of you wants some grown up time without the kids and the other thinks holidays are for families, you may have to compromise. Work out when the children will enjoy clubs and supervised activities and when you can all do something together. Don’t insist on everyone being together if you don’t have something to share --  someone will get bored and start grumbling.

What about sex? If one of you is expecting the holiday to provide adult nights and the other has written it off because you’re sharing a room with the children, you need to be up front about what you’re assuming before you go. Many a couple have developed a mean line in bathroom intimacy during family hols, while others just argue about it. Try to imagine what will be possible before you book and talk about it, so there is as little disappointment as possible when you arrive.

Even if you’ve already been away, and the holiday was a disaster, it still isn’t too late to make up for some of the fun you missed. You may be counting the days until school restarts, but some planning now -  taking into account each family member’s preferences - may mean you can spend some real quality time together before school restarts. You can’t please all of the family all of the time but there is usually a little something everyone can enjoy if that part is highlighted, rather than allowing each of you to focus on the parts which aren’t your cup of tea.

As for your relationship, do be aware that holidays are stressful and co-operation will help you to enjoy rather than endure them. Unite to discuss what you could do differently and make sure you are clear about what you want or need for the rest of the summer, and for future breaks. Use what went wrong this time to help you make sure you've done all you can to plan with care for next time. Keep reminding yourself that it's probably the circumstances rather than your relationship which caused the problems.

And when you’ve got all that sorted out, you can start making your plan for Christmas!

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Cate Campbell MA, MBACP (Accred), AccCOSRT, EMDR Europe Accredited, MAFT

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