It’s Christmaaaaaas! Time to down tools, indulge in some festive cheer and enjoy focusing on those you love most. At best, Christmas brings out the optimist in us all: reminding us of everything we have to be thankful for and encouraging us to show loved ones how much they mean to us. At worst, however, we turn into shopping-frenzied harpies who accidentally invite 25 strangers round for mulled wine, with kids who behave like cooped-up animals. In short, the Christmas holidays are not always what we might have imagined.
It’s at this time of year that many couples can really feel pressure on their relationships. In fact, when Relate asked 2,298 UK adults recently, 55% said that Christmas places an added strain on relationships*. This is borne out by the fact that, on average, Relate sees a 13% rise in calls and a 58% rise in website users each January**. As a Relate Counsellor, I’m bracing myself for a similar peak next month but, while it’s never too late to seek support, I really would urge people to think now about any relationship issues that already exist – before being tipped into crisis.
So why does this happen? In my experience, it often boils down to pressure we’re putting on ourselves. Pressure to be the perfect partner, the perfect host, the perfect parent…it’s nigh-on impossible to be any of these things at any time of the year, but throw in glossy Christmas adverts depicting romantic and family bliss, plus the financial pressures that can bring, and it’s no wonder relationships end up being pushed to the brink. When ‘the perfect Christmas’ fails to translate into reality, it can be disappointing and deflating.
Too often, in the midst of those ideals fading away, it’s easy to lose sight of the positive things about our relationships. I regularly see couples who can see no way of being happy again, when in fact life has got in the way and they’ve just forgotten why they’re together in the first place. With the right support, some may be able to save their relationship, or make breaking-up less painful and acrimonious. Here are some things you can try now, to head-off some of that Christmas pressure before it begins.
Talk about underlying issues now
If you’re aware that things aren’t great with your partner, don’t leave it until after Christmas to take action. Have a conversation now about what’s not working and maybe call your local Relate to find out how they can help. Just starting to have those difficult conversations can take some pressure off before you’re all jammed in at home together for a week.
Agree a budget
Money worries are the number one strain on relationships***. Sit down with your partner and decide what you want Christmas to look like, then consider what you can actually afford. This might take some compromise, particularly if you have different attitudes to money. Keep checking in so there aren’t any nasty surprises come January.
Carve out me and us time
When you’re with a big family group for several days, it’s important to take time out. Go to your room for a while and enjoy a cuddle or get up early to go for a morning run together. Have a bath to relax and unwind.
Divide up tasks
Talk about what needs to happen, such as buying presents, tidying the house, preparing food and decorating. Divide up tasks based on your skills and interests and empower the kids by getting them to choose which chores they’ll do.
Don’t let it fester
If your partner does something to upset you, ask them if you can talk to them in private rather than kicking off in front of the family. If there are guests around, head to the garden or go together to run an errand and discuss things properly then.
Take it easy on the booze
It can be tempting to get carried away, particularly if conversation isn’t flowing easily or if somebody has rubbed you up the wrong way. Unfortunately, too much alcohol when you’re already in a bad mood can be a recipe for an unmerry Christmas and an awkward New Year.
Relate reaches more two million people each year, but it’s clear many more would benefit from our support. Sign Relate and BACP’s #Investinrelationships petition calling for increased funding for relationship support, so that everyone who needs it has access to help, regardless of income.
*Taken from a poll of 2,298 UK adults conducted online by Censuswide between 19 and 23 October 2018 on behalf of Relate.
**The increase in calls figure was calculated by looking at the average monthly number of calls to Relate’s telephone network between January 2016 – April 2018 (excluding Januarys). This was compared to the average number of calls in the Januarys of those years (2016, 2017 and 2018) to show an average January peak. The increase in website traffic figure was calculated by looking at the number of users of the Relate website in January 2016, January 2017 and January 2018. From January 2016- January 2018 there was a rise of 58%.
***Research from Relate’s It Takes Two: the quality of the UK’s couple relationships report (2017).