You’ve gathered your whole family together for Christmas dinner. Three generations of relatives are about to sit down around one table for the first time since December 25 last year.

The alcohol is flowing, the turkey is nearly ready, some presents have been unwrapped and discussions are already underway as to what board game to play later.

And then the arguments start.

It’s a scene that’s played out in homes across the country during the festive period.

“Cracks start to show. Previous issues come back to the surface. There’s a lot of anticipation and pressure, plus people often drink too much," says BACP counsellor Cate Campbell.

There are so many different types of families now, including blended families and step families.

“There’s a lot of expectation surrounding Christmas and it’s often a time when relationships or families aren’t managed very well.”

But Cate has some straightforward advice for people to follow to help them negotiate family gatherings over Christmas – that could help people get on a little better.

Make a plan

Having a plan can be a big help, she says.

“Think about what’s going to work. People often need to know what’s going to happen and when. Of course, you can still be spontaneous. But if there’s a rough plan then people are a bit more prepared.”

Manage expectation of relatives

Expectation often creates one of the biggest flashpoints surrounding Christmas – but that can easily be avoided.

“Managing expectations can really help,” says Cate, “Let your relatives know if there’s going to be a change to the usual traditions, or if you’re cooking something different.  Give people time to adjust their expectations.”

See the funny side of the quirks of your family

“Every family has relatives with funny little characteristics or habits that get on people’s nerves.

“Try to think about them as another family tradition, rather than something that annoys you,” advises Cate.

While she doesn’t advocate making fun of family members, she does say that adopting a more humorous attitude towards relatives’ quirks can ease the tension that sometimes surrounds these habits.

Be nice

If a relative’s habits do annoy you – remember that this is the time of year when sometimes you just have to bite your tongue.

Think about their feelings, says Cate. Be nice.

“Your father-in-law might annoy you by insisting the whole family gather together for a quiz. But he may have put a lot of work into creating that quiz. Just remember that,” adds Cate.

Be kind to yourself

Remember to take time for yourself as well, says Cate.

“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Just see how it goes. You’ll be a bit more relaxed then, and you might be able to enjoy this time with your family a bit more then.”

 

To speak to a BACP counsellor, visit our Find a Therapist Directory.