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How to decide who to spend Christmas with and avoid family rows

As the Christmas lights go up and the heart-warming festive TV adverts appear, anyone who hasn’t confirmed how they are spending Christmas this year may be feeling under pressure to commit.

Who to spend Christmas with sounds like such a simple question but it can actually be rather complicated and cause a lot of stress and tension within families and between the couple themselves. In fact, Relationships charities Relate Nottinghamshire and Marriage Care say that this is something which often comes up in the counselling room. The charities have therefore released top tips on how to avoid rows about who to spend Christmas with.

Relate counsellor, Alison Towner, Clinical Supervisor at Relate Nottinghamshire said the issue can be particularly apparent within blended families. She said:

“Deciding who to spend Christmas with is often a major source of tension in relationships, especially where families are trying to cover all bases. This is never truer than for step families or blended families where there might be competing agendas, especially where children are concerned.”

“At Relate, we often see people who have felt infuriated by an ex-partner having somehow ‘manipulated’ offspring into spending the big day with them instead. Of course, underneath the anger there are often feelings of sadness, abandonment and failure. That’s why if you have difficult relationship with an ex-partner, finding time to connect, talk and listen to their thoughts and feelings within a neutral environment can be a powerful way of coming to an agreement.”

In Marriage Care’s experience, newlyweds can also face issues, particularly when they find themselves having to choose which family they will spend their first Christmas with as a married couple. Bridie Collins at Marriage Care said:

“Sometimes, both sets of families assume they’ll be ‘getting you’ for your first married Christmas and will be disappointed if they don’t. If parents protest, keep in mind that this can be hard for your parents, especially if it’s your first time missing the family occasion. And it’s likely to be tough for you as well. Reassure them that you wish there was a way to spend the holiday with both families, but you have to make a choice. Perhaps you can offer to visit them on another significant holiday occasion, or decide to be with them next year.

“What is most important is that you as a couple discuss the issue and agree on any decision, compromising as necessary for the sake of your relationship. If it’s something you find you can’t agree about, don’t let it become a niggle – seek a little support!”
Tips for avoiding disagreements about how to spend Christmas
• Be realistic and understand that you can’t please everyone all of the time. Rushing around trying to fit in multiple visits on Christmas Day is likely to mean you feel stressed and don’t enjoy it.
• If you come from a blended family, bear in mind that asking a child to ‘choose’ who to spend the day with can make them feel very anxious. Consider a fairer solution such as taking it in turns each year.
• Find time to connect, talk and listen to all parties. If you have a difficult relationship with anyone, discussing things on neutral territory may provide the best outcomes.
• Share with each other what practices or traditions make this time ‘special’ and the importance to each of you of celebrating it with the extended family. You may find that it’s not such a big deal for one of you, despite family expectations
• Try to introduce change gradually so it’s all less of a shock to the system. People can often accept minor differences which before they (and you) know it, become part of a new way of doing Christmas.
• If for instance you want to go abroad this year but are worried about a friend or relative feeling lonely or left out, consider inviting them along or seeing if there’s anyone else who they would like to spend the day with.
• If you can’t see certain people on Christmas Day, arrange to see them at another point during the festive period such as Boxing Day, Christmas Eve or the weekend before.
• Recognize that it’s OK to take control of the Christmas arrangements and not stick to the same routine.
• Next year, start talking about what feels do-able sooner rather than later. This often means that more people’s opinions can be canvassed and considered before a decision is made.