And ways to avoid them
By Karen Gordon
While Christmas can be an exciting time, it can also be a big cause of stress for many. Christmas is indeed a prime time of year for family arguments – whether it be because of clashes in personalities or values, sibling favouritism or simply not agreeing on what to do.
Relate counsellor Rachel Davies says there are two main reasons why she thinks Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for fallouts. She explains, “I think a lot of people who are having difficulty this time of year put on a brave face to focus on having a good time and think the problems will go away – and of course they’re still there after the Christmas decorations have been taken down.
“But also, there are problems with how many expectations we put on families to fulfil the Christmas card and television advert image of large extended families having a lovely time and I think there’s a lot of pressure to live up to that.”
Here are some ways to cope with family rifts over the festive season….
- Think ahead and be realistic
If you know that there’s likely to be conflict within your family, spending extended time together over Christmas is probably not realistic, explains Rachel.
“I think there’s something about being realistic ahead of time so you can avoid putting yourself into situations where it’s going to lead to problems further down the line. So, make sure your plans are realistic.”
- Do your best to compromise
A large amount of acceptance on Christmas Day is important, says family counsellor Diane Stevens, and if you’re not happy, communication is key.
“For example, you may have some people who drink more heavily than others or maybe not at all. So, compromise and decide to start drinking at Christmas dinner, rather than earlier in the day. If there are arguments at Christmas, limit things like alcohol because that obviously creates extra irritability.”
- Mix things up a bit
Rather than forcing yourself to spend extended time with the members of your family who you find most difficult, see if you can break your time up to alleviate the pressure that you all have to be together all of the time. Rachel says:
“I have spoken to people who’ve found all sorts of clever ways of creating ways to take some time out. Things like being the one who walks the dog or who finds a late-night garage to buy some milk. It’s important just get a break from the pressure from each other.”
- Avoid heavy conversations
This is not the time of year to tackle your mother about her drinking problem or resolve the feud that you’ve always had with your brother. Rachel recommends having lighter conversations and compromising a bit.
“Try to avoid heavy conversations if you can or controversial topics like arguing over Brexit, unless your family really enjoys debating.”
- Try to share any anxieties you have got ahead of time
Trust a person in your family who you can communicate your worries or who may even share the same concerns. Rachel advises:
“You can discuss how you are going to manage those few days. And even if they don’t share your concerns, it may be that they are better at dealing with that person than you are.”
- Look after yourself first
If there is no way to resolve a dispute and it is only going to get worse, take yourself out of the situation as soon as you can. Diane says:
“If it’s something that can’t be controlled and is becoming a real problem, you may have to make the decision to say this isn’t okay, and either go home or away from what’s going on.”
- Seek help
Unlike involving another member of the family, a therapist wont judge you or take sides and will be able to help you to find strategies to move forward. In January 2016, Relate received a 24% increase in calls as family tensions came to a head over the Christmas holidays. Dr Lucy Blake, from the Centre for Family Research at Cambridge University, says that it helps to remember that you’re not alone if you’re experiencing estrangement or feeling challenged by a family relationship.
“Some people might find it helpful to reach out and join a community like Stand Alone, which provides support to adults that are estranged from their family or a key family member.”