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5 ways to reduce conflict at Christmas

Kate Thompson, couples' therapist at Tavistock Relationships, shares ways to enjoy a peaceful festive celebration

by Psychologies

Tavistock Relationships is a charity specialising in helping couples with their relationship difficulties and we always see a significant rise in couples and individuals seeking relationship support in the New Year.

Christmas is primarily for children, a time of magic and surprise, presents, being looked after and spoilt perhaps. For parents, it can be a time of domestic hard work, financial concern, pressure to live up to the expectations of their children, reunions with extended family and way too much rich food and alcohol. 

For adults, there is also the memory of Christmases past, when they too were the willing recipient of magical treats. This expectation of a 'perfect Christmas' can be indelibly stamped into our unconscious and all too often adults can regress back to that expectation at this time of year, carrying an unconscious, yet powerful hope for magic, and a yearning to be looked after that cannot be met. The idea that Christmas will make everything in a relationship or family alright again is a strong one to resist, but when the holidays are over and we wake up to rediscover our difficulties have not evaporated, it can sometimes make things worse than ever.

So if all you want this Christmas is family peace and harmony, here are 5 ways to help reduce conflict and keep the Christmas spirit joyful over the festive season:

  1. Tolerate each other – accepting and tolerating differences is essential in every relationship. Both halves of a couple need to learn to regularly take time to put themselves in the other’s shoes, respect their differences and think about what makes the other person happy in order to strengthen the relationship. Even when it comes to discussing difficult topics like Brexit and parenting styles, and graciously accepting unwanted gifts.
  2. Find the third way – it’s all too common for couples to squabble over how Christmas ‘should be’, linked to their own experiences as children. For example, for one partner, presents need to be opened on Christmas Eve, while for the other, gifts can only be exchanged after the Queen's speech. Couples must negotiate these emotionally charged ‘family of origin’ cultural differences and, ideally, carve out their own 'couple way' of celebrating Christmas by creating a third way that is about their relationship and their new family.
  3. Practise teamwork – everyday stresses stack-up within everyone (especially in the run-up to Christmas) and it's helpful for partners to get to know not only feelings of stress mounting up within themselves, but also in their partners. Helping each other with even small domestic tasks, is a way of understanding another’s struggle, minimise blame and create more time to relax, with a shared sense of accomplishment. So pop on those Christmas tunes and spend time together writing Christmas cards, wrapping presents, decorating the tree and planning the festive days.
  4. Appreciate each other – despite the length of a relationship, saying 'thank you' is really important. Some couples assume the other knows they are grateful, but ‘thank you’ is a magical phrase that can unlock important feelings of validation and prevents feelings of being taken for granted and creating resentment. It creates a benign cycle between partners, encouraging ‘the giver’ to repeat a generous act – even if it is just unloading the dishwasher or making a cup of tea in the morning.
  5. Play together – laughing and ‘playing’ has all kinds of health benefits, from easing stress, countering depression and boosting positive mood: it releases hormones that can increase a sense of wellbeing. Research reveals that most people look for a good sense of humour in their ideal mate and sharing a sense of what’s funny affirms an intimate relationship – so watch a funny film together and dust off those long-neglected board games to lighten the mood and increase a sense of pleasure in life and each other.  

Working from two London bases as well as operating a nationally available online service, Tavistock Relationships has over 100 professionals providing an effective and highly-regarded form of couples’ counselling and psychotherapy. To find out more about the training offered by Tavistock Relationships, go to tavistockrelationships.org or call 020 7380 8288.

Photo: Getty Images

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