The Christmas holiday period may not have been a relaxing break from work for everyone.

The 21st century’s ‘always-on culture’ and increasing work pressures mean many people will still be checking their work emails and thinking about what might be going on in their office while they’re at home – even on Christmas Day.

And that preoccupation with work can also cause friction in relationships during a time when partners may be expecting to spend quality time together as a family.

If that’s been a feature of your Christmas holidays so far – and you want to know how to approach your partner about this issue - then here’s some advice from BACP counsellor Louise Tyler.

Of course this issue isn't unique to the Christmas break, and so this advice will also be useful for other times, such as weekends or holidays.

Let them know how you feel

“If someone in your family is unable to disengage from work despite being officially ‘off’, try not to immediately get angry or criticise. Instead let them know how it makes you feel,” she says.

Louise recommends using the ‘XYZ formula’ to explain yourself: when you do X, in situation Y, it makes me feel Z.

For instance, when you look at work e-mails, when we’re together as a family, it makes us feel unimportant or dismissed or unappreciated.

Be curious

She adds: “It’s helpful to be curious about why your partner feels the need to do this. Are they under immense pressure at work, and feel as though they need to constantly keep on top of things? Is there an expectation that they will remain engaged? Do they feel disconnected from the family dynamics or left out and find it difficult to integrate?”

BACP counsellor Louise Tyler has some advice for people who may have been annoyed by their partner or relatives’ lack of work-life balance during the Christmas break.
BACP counsellor Louise Tyler has advice for people who may have been annoyed by their partner or relatives’ lack of work-life balance during the Christmas break.

“Talk things through with your partner, acknowledge any stress they are under and offer to help them find ways to manage this, or discuss any difficulties they’re experiencing in organising their home-life balance.

“Show appreciation for what they’re experiencing rather than becoming contemptuous of their behaviour,” says Louise, of Personal Resilience, based in Altrincham, Cheshire.

Maintain boundaries

She adds: “Talk to your partner about the importance of maintaining at least some boundaries between work and home. Ask them to give themselves permission to re-charge, pointing out they’ll actually be more efficient for having time out otherwise they may burn out.”

She suggests helping your partner come up with a realistic solution.

This could involve them checking their e-mails at a certain time of day for a specific amount of time.

At other times they need to commit to being fully present.

She adds: “Plan particular family activities such as walks, film and games nights. Ask them to cook a meal, it may be that they’ve become disengaged from the family routine and will welcome the change to get involved.”

If excessive screen-time is causing a problem in the relationship, then it might be time to make a general rule of a cut-off point for all activities involving phones, tablets, gaming and laptops.

“This should ideally be at least an hour before bedtime. Try to get in the habit of charging devices outside the bedroom and use an old-fashioned alarm clock,” adds Louise.

Think about your relationship

An important thing for any couple to understand is whether issues arising due to work-life balance in the Christmas period might be symbolic of deeper problems in the relationship.

“Think about the relationship dynamics as a whole,” Louise adds.

“Have you got into the habit of each doing your own thing with little time spent together? Do you make time to relax together, rather than just existing as a team who manage a busy household schedule?”

Finally, she adds: “Talk to each other honestly about what you need and want from the relationship.

"Try to recreate some of the intimacy that may have become long forgotten.”

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