Whilst Christmas equals wedded bliss and merry making for some couples, for others it spells the beginning of a period of strain, irritation, and exhaustion. With 15% experiencing relationship tension due to festive finances and 9% feeling as though they do all the work whilst their partner doesn’t pull their weight – perhaps it’s time to anticipate and plan for potential conflict. Support network Counselling Directory asks accredited counsellor Graeme Orr for his relationship advice and tips.
Unwrapping presents beneath the Christmas tree warmed by a crackling fire, sitting down to luncheon and toasting to one another’s good health, and finally retiring to the drawing room for carol singing around the piano whilst snowflakes gently begin to fall outside…
Whilst the ‘perfect’ Christmas may sound fit for the front of a greetings card, the reality is often rather different.
Instead of peace to all on earth, for many the festive season equates to hours spent in the kitchen only to be told the turkey “is a bit dry dear”, distant relatives sloshed on an explosive combination of sherry and wine, and the chef being left to singlehandedly clear the wreckage of the table to the sound of snoring in-laws. It can be an extremely stressful period, with the pressure often resulting in an overwhelming desire to throttle those nearest and dearest with the closest piece of tinsel.
Whilst the expectation of Christmas is that families come together to be happy and enjoy each other’s company, it doesn’t always work out that way. Unfortunately, for many Christmas is seen as a time of loss, sadness, stress and frustration – all packed tightly into an overwhelmingly short space of time.
According to a survey carried out by Counselling Directory, 9% of couples argue about where to spend Christmas whilst 13% of us ‘dislike’ our partner’s families. If you are dreading next weeks festivities and are already anticipating a snow storm of irritation and anger then perhaps it is time to start preparations for a conflict free Christmas.
Counselling Directory spoke to accredited counsellor, author and trainer Graeme Orr about his top tips and relationship advice for how to avoid a Christmas bust-up**.
The Glasgow based relationship counsellor explains that communicating effectively is the key to confronting problems before they break into conflict.
“Talking about differing expectations lowers the chance of problems and the stress”, he says. “Saying what you would like and listening to others needs can prevent conflict later.”
Graeme recommends simple preventative measures such as sharing set pieces like the Christmas meal, parties and decorations. Making a to-do list to ensure that tasks and responsibilities are shared means that no one will feel left out or as though they are doing more than their fair share and are being undervalued. This way everyone will have time to enjoy the festivities.
However, individuals can’t be prepared for every situation, so if conflict does break out then how the outcome is handled becomes crucial.
According to Graeme, couples should try to talk about their feelings instead of insisting upon change from one another. Demands can lead to the accused becoming defensive and turning their focus to winning as opposed to finding a solution.
Below Graeme summarises three key rules to help individuals keep their cool:
1. Christmas is a stressful time with lots of competing pressures and priorities. Plan and talk about flashpoints beforehand; it can manage expectations and share the burden.
2. It is just as important to look after yourself as it is your family and friends. Consider some light exercise or time out to allow you time to de-stress.
3. Finally if you need to confront something, do it quickly. Talk about your position, how you feel, your needs and wants and avoid any direct criticism. Remember your goal is to have a solution not start a war.
For families that feel they are well beyond general relationship advice and tips and have resigned themselves to yet another blue Christmas, marriage counselling or relationship counselling could provide additional support and a positive way forward.
The festive season has long since been connected to a peak in relationship breakdowns and divorces, and whilst the exact reason for this is open to interpretation, a contributing factor is certainly the additional pressure and expectations that Christmas brings.
Cracks in relationships might have been forming for some time, but during this period of intensity they become particularly exposed.
If the above sounds familiar then couples who are finally ready to make a change may find that relationship counselling or marriage counselling could provide necessary additional support and a positive way forward.
*Counselling Directory figures based on an online survey carried out by visitors to the site during November 2012.
**Graeme Orr. View information about Graeme and his contact details on his Counselling Directory profile.
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