We wish you a happy Christmas.
The Relate Bedfordshire and Luton counselling centres are closed from close of play on December 22 till January 2 2018.
We do wish you well but know that for many people it can be a difficult time of year.
Deciding who to spend Christmas with is often a major source of tension in relationships – especially for stepfamilies or blended families where there may be competing agendas.
At Relate, we see people who feel enraged by an ex-partner having somehow “manipulated” offspring into spending the big day with them.
Underneath the outrage is often terrible sadness and feelings of abandonment and failure.
Children can get anxious too if they’re asked to choose which parent they want to spend the day with: our counsellors often see children who feel they can’t please both parents.
Distressed children may deal with these painful feelings through behaviours regarded as difficult and sometimes abusive.
Often problems about Christmas arrangements arise when, after years of going along with the same routine, someone wants to make a change.
It may result from life changes such as children leaving home, a family member feeling fragile following ill-health, or from someone simply thinking: ‘It’s about time the mould was broken.’
A change of scene at Christmas may be just what the family needs, but do it too suddenly and it can create dilemmas often made worse when we don’t communicate effectively.
Often at the bottom of much of this distress is the genuine concern that, if we make changes to our plans, someone who may have previously relied on us will be hurt and possibly alone. The fear of loneliness at this time of year is heightened – an Age UK poll found that nearly 400,000 people aged over 65 in the UK were worried about being lonely over Christmas.
But… some pointers may make things a little easier.
First, be realistic. You can’t please everyone. Neither can you, nor should you, take on vast swathes of extra work trying to achieve the impossible. If it falls to you to do most of the sorting out, start talking about what feels do-able sooner rather than later. This often means more of the family’s opinions being canvassed and considered before a decision is made.
Second, it’s usually better to make change gradually. People often accept minor differences which – before they (and you) know it – become part of a new way of doing Christmas, so it’s less of a shock to the system.
Third, if you have a difficult relationship with an ex-partner (or a current one), it helps to have tricky conversations about any arrangement away from other stressors. Finding time to connect, talk and listen to each other’s thoughts and feelings within a neutral environment can be a powerful way of reaching a reasonable agreement.
And finally, recognize it’s OK to take control of the Christmas arrangements. Others have a choice about how they react to new arrangements. But the old adage: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” isn’t a bad starting point, especially at this time of year.