Tuesday, 17 November 2015

How to survive Christmas with the family

With Christmas Day almost upon us, the thought of spending time with your extended family may have started to make its way to the front of your mind. While we are bombarded with advertising images of happy families and couples enjoying the big day, in reality things are often not so rosy.

While the thought of spending time with your siblings and their children, or you or your partner's parents may be idylic in your head, it may be that in reality they always seems to rub you up the wrong way and leave you feeling cross or upset.

Read our tips to keeping your family on an even keel so nobody ends up in the dog house this Christmas!

Parents and parents in-law

"Parents can have a powerful effect on their grown up children. While we often look forward to spending time with our parents, being in their company for extended periods can lead to discussions and niggles coming to the fore," says Professor Ewan Gillon, Counselling Psychologist and Clinical Director of First Psychology Scotland.

"It can sometimes feel that our parents are criticising us when we don't do things their way. They in turn may feel disappointed that we aren't acknowledging their experience and wisdom or treating them with the respect they deserve."

"Everyone has a preconceived vision of how they would like Christmas to be and when reality doesn't agree with this vision, it can be hard to deal with," says Professor Gillon.

"Being in the company of anyone for extended periods of time is likely to draw out disagreements and resentment and it is important to recognise this and not allow things to escalate. When there is a history, such as with parents, where they have once made decisions for us and we may have been resistant to this, it can sometimes be hard for both parties not to slip back into old habits."

Relationship issues

When 'forced' to spend more uninterrupted time with a partner, relationship issues and arguments can arise and things can become heated. It is not a coincidence that so called 'divorce day' - when more couples file for divorce than any other day in the year  - occurs in January, says Professor Gillon. "For couples who are having relationship difficulties, an extended period together can cause rifts and resentments to bubble up and bring things to a head. Sometimes things are said in the heat of the moment, or the pressure builds to a point where people feel the only way is out," he says.

Don't let things escalate!

Whether you're spending the Christmas period with your partner alone, your immediate family or extended family, or they are staying with you, Professor Gillon's advice can help you all enjoy the experience.

"The best way to survive extended Christmas contact with relatives is to pre-plan time away from each other and also time together with a joint focus, he says. Time out, such as popping upstairs to read your book away from it all, popping out to see a friend for an evening, going out for a drink with just your partner (when you have a full house), etc can provide a valuable opportunity to refocus and gain perspective on things," says Professor Gillon.

"Joint focus activities, such as going for a walk together in the woods, provides a positive joint experience and as such increases bonding. And there is the added bonus of releasing some tension when taking exercise too. Just don't overdo it, or it may backfire and make you all exhausted and grumpy, he laughs."

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