Despite lashings of festive merriment, for many people Christmas is a time of increased stress and conflict. Indeed, Google searches for anger management peak in December in the lead up to Christmas. A recent survey by relationship counsellors Relate also found that 55 per cent of UK adults think Christmas places an added strain on relationships, with arguments about money causing the most tension.
So how can you minimise conflict and ensure relations with family and friends don’t combust in a turkey-fuelled bonfire of lingering resentment and reignited arguments? We spoke with Gurpreet Singh, a Relate counsellor and psychotherapist, for his advice on how to avoid family conflict over Christmas. ‘The festive period a time of heightened emotions,’ he explains. ‘If you’re feeling happy, you’re very happy, and if you’re feeling sad or angry, it’s magnified, as well.’ Here’s his top five tips.
Gurpreet Singh, Relate counsellor and psychotherapist
1. Don’t prevent conflict
Surprisingly, Singh doesn’t recommend simply trying to avoid arguments. Instead, he advises navigating rocky territory ahead of time, and ironing out any problems before the big day hits. ‘Understand the difficulties of Christmas by talking to your partner, and acknowledge any differences and underlying issues that might cause problems, rather than just circumventing them. It’s especially important to understand if something is important to your partner, even if it’s not to you.’
2. Avoid letting arguments fester
Whatever the problem is, if conflict arises Singh recommends that it’s important for it not to fester – and be blown out of all proportion later on. ‘Identify problems ahead of time, and work through them straight away. Most importantly, it’s about learning the boundaries of what works for you and your family. Families are an integral part of your support system, if you can learn to navigate them. But if you don’t get along, they can be equally disruptive.’
3. Just breathe and walk away
Although being able to communicate what hurts you is important, Singh is adamant that you shouldn’t say something in anger that you’ll later regret. ‘It’s far better to just breathe, ask to be excused and walk away. Also, show common courtesy and decency in your actions. Don’t do things at a cost to yourself, but that is no excuse to be rude to other people. Once you feel safe you can go back and address what made you uncomfortable.’
4. Learn strategies to manage your anger
Often, men gravitate to anger as a response mechanism when they feel threatened. However, this is especially unhelpful at Christmas, and finding strategies to manage your anger is important. ‘Learn to say what you disagree with, but in a healthy way,’ advises Singh. ‘Rather than using your anger to express what you’re feeling in a negative way, it’s better to simply walk away. Come back later to address what made you angry when you feel ready, and in a calmer state of mind.’
5. Communication, communication, communication
And the most important way to having a Christmas free of conflict? Communication. ‘If you don’t say what you’re feeling, someone else isn’t necessarily going to know it,’ explains Singh. ‘Good communication is such an important part of any healthy relationship, be it a friend, a colleague or a family member.’ Get that right, and your Christmas will be all the better for it.