How to cope with family tensions at Christmas time

How to cope with family tensions at Christmas time

The image peddled by adverts of happy families sitting around a Christmas table together is often not the normal Christmas experience for many. The festive season can bring up emotions and frustrations between family members, and for those being confronted with awkward reunions, it can cause unease.

Thankfully, there are ways to deal with problematic relationships and minimise tensions. Arm yourself with the following advice to ensure both you and your family enjoy the festive season in peace.

Things to consider

Before you accept invites to gatherings that may be awkward and difficult, consider the following:
    • What would you like your Christmas to be like? You may feel obliged to accept an invitation, but first consider what you would like to do. Also, what is best for your children- would they be happier at home enjoying their gifts, rather than feeling the tension in an unhappy atmosphere?
    • Think about your responsibilities. ‘Your first priority is you and any children or relatives living at your home,’ advises Nicola Baldwin, Parenting Lead who delivers Fegans Family Support Services on behalf of Spurgeons. That means considering their wellbeing and welfare- not keeping another relative happy.
    • How long might you see relatives for? ‘Could you take it in turns to see parents or other relatives with your siblings?’ asks Nicola. ‘Also, how long would you see them for and when is best for you? Is all day a good idea?’
    • Can you make an executive decision and say no this year? ‘Be assertive in plenty of time so that others can make plans,’ advises Nicola. ‘Don’t put it off and then cause disruption at the last minute.’
    • Could you be assertive and say no in a way that doesn’t make you feel guilty? Repeatedly giving in to other people breeds resentfulness. Instead, approach the situation along the lines of ‘I’m sorry, but we have decided to have a quiet Christmas at home this year.’ If the other person won’t accept this, repeat the same line over and over. You don’t have to get into a discussion about it with them. If you start to feel guilty, remind yourself that if you had agreed to the invite you would have been annoyed and unhappy.

How to handle being confronted with tricky interactions

If you are likely to see people who you have a difficult relationship with, try the following tactics to avoid problems:

Avoid awkward conversations

Aim to steer the conversation away from areas of conflict between you, and if a comment is made towards you that is meant to antagonise, stay calm and give a benign answer before changing the subject.

Try and find common ground

A good ice-breaker for frosty relationships is finding something positive for you both to talk about. Perhaps there is a common interest between you, or you could talk to them about something they have knowledge of. Anything that can thaw the iciness is helpful.

Bite your tongue (for now)

If your father-in-law just made a comment that made you want to verbally lash out in response, take a pause. Doing so will give you time to think- will responding to the insult gain anything, or make the situation worse? If need be, give yourself some space to absorb what was said and discuss it later in a calm way.

Communicate effectively

Leaving upsets stewing over time can create resentfulness. It might be best, therefore, to speak to the relative you’re upset with and have a conversation before seeing them over Christmas. Use ‘I feel’ sentences to explain your stance on the situation, such as ‘I felt hurt by what you said’, rather than harder language such as ‘You made a nasty comment to me’, which can upset the other person and make them defensive.

Talk to others

Lastly, speak to other parents, colleagues or friends and see how they have dealt with similar situations with their families. Being open and discussing the issue with a third party may help you process your issues and take some anxieties away by sharing your thoughts with someone who can listen and offer support. This blog has appeared on DAD.Info. DAD.info, now part of Spurgeons is Europe’s largest advice and support website for fathers. DAD.info was established in 2008 as a new generation men’s lifestyle channel and the leading voice for Dads. DAD.info aim to celebrate the changing role of Dads with engaging, helpful, practical, entertaining resources and content for every stage of their journey. It is home to the largest connected community of active, involved Dads through its interactive forum, providing great peer to peer support and advice for what can be one of the most challenging and rewarding life experiences.