Can my relationship survive Christmas?
Christmas itself may not be to blame for the breakdown of a relationship, but it can be a challenging time, especially when the relationship feels fragile. Unrealistic expectations, conflicting demands to spend time with family, over-spending and excessive drinking, are all aspects of the festive season that can raise anxiety and lead to disappointment, resentment and arguments.
Here are some suggestions that might make this time of year a little easier:
Try not to have fixed expectations
Every time you turn on the television, you are faced with images of what Christmas should look like; happy, colour-coordinated families sitting at a feast-filled table, by a roaring fire and a twinkling tree, all laughing and having the best time. The trouble is, we start to believe in this perfect scene and work towards creating it for ourselves. This will most likely lead to disappointment. Remember, it’s not real and they are actors! If you can be forgiving of your own and your Christmas companions’ imperfections, you’ll probably feel a lot less stressed out.
Talk to your partner in advance of the festive period
Don’t wait for things to get really bad before you express yourself. Talk about your concerns and consider the feelings that might arise in you at Christmas time. Think about how you both might respond to each other in order to improve things. If it is difficult to have these conversations without arguing, consider couples counselling to talk through the issues in a neutral, non-judgemental space.
Be organised and delegate
Know what is expected of you and your partner over the festive period. If the responsibility to host falls with you, don’t agree to take everything on and then feel resentful for that. Gently delegate jobs to your partner, friends and family to share the load; others might appreciate feeling useful. If someone else is hosting, offer to help and share some of the costs of Christmas, which might minimise their resentful feelings and foster a more relaxed atmosphere.
Be a team
Find compromises, not battles and try not to argue in front of an audience, who might get involved and take sides. When all the family get together, people often regress to behaving a bit like they did as children; if you notice this in your partner, show support rather than criticism. If particular individuals are likely to trigger uncomfortable feelings in you and your partner, talk about this in advance. If you do get wound up by someone, take deep calming breaths and leave the room rather than reacting without thinking.
Make time for yourself and as a couple
Having space is important and without it, you can feel emotionally and physically claustrophobic. Schedule in some time (even if it’s just 30 minutes) to be alone as well as taking time out as a couple without other people around you. Go for a walk and get some fresh air; too much time indoors altogether can feel overwhelming.
You don’t have to have sex just because it’s Christmas
If you find that you are pre-occupied or anxious over the festive period, sex may not be so easy or enjoyable. If you are worried about this, ease some of the pressure by agreeing not to have sex your usual way. Enjoy a naked cuddle or a sensual massage instead. Besides, too much food and alcohol are not ideal ingredients for good sex!
Play a game
If you are worried that the cocktail of characters around the festive dinner table is likely to cause a bad atmosphere, have a few light-hearted games to play as a pleasant distraction from potential heated arguments.
The problem with presents
It probably won’t help to get frustrated and disappointed in your partner for buying you a gift that you don’t really like. Instead of interpreting an unwanted gift as a sign that they don’t care or know you well enough, offer them a list of gifts that you might like and vice versa. Agree on a budget for buying gifts and curb your spending if necessary to avoid more worry and stress.
Christmas is not a happy time for everyone. It can trigger feelings of loss, such as remembering loved ones that have passed away, divorce, miscarriage, illness and difficult times. Tell your partner if this time of year raises certain sensitivities for you.
Get some perspective
Although the festive period has a ridiculously long build up, it is only for a few days and won’t last forever!
Charlotte Simpson is an Accredited Psychosexual Therapist and Relationship Counsellor in Private Practice in North West London.