How to Survive Christmas With the In-laws

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It may be the season to be jolly, but for many people Christmas is a time of tension and stress.

It’s a fact that many of us just don’t get along well with our in-laws or other family members, making Christmas that much more awkward. Disputes over issues such as hosting or personal disagreements can really affect the dynamic of celebrations. For people who go away for Christmas and stay in the same house as their relatives, being in such close quarters can also lead to conflict. To survive Christmas, I’ve got a few simple suggestions:

Plan As Much in Advance As Possible

Have an open discussion with your family about everyone’s expectations and ensure each is met. For example, could you rotate where you spend Christmas? Have these conversations early on because they become more emotional the closer we get to Christmas.

Focus on What You Do Enjoy

If you’re anticipating a stressful Christmas, acknowledge this and remind yourself that you’re not alone, and many people struggle this time of year. Try to focus on an element of Christmas you do enjoy. Remember you have managed in previous years, and it’ll be over and done with soon enough.

Brainstorm Stress Busting Strategies

Make a plan on how to manage your stress. Brainstorm strategies you can use to relax yourself when your stress level becomes problematic. Consider using a rating scale out of 10. For example, if your stress gets to six, you can try some deep breathing (inhale counting to three, exhale counting to three, making sure your stomach is inflating and deflating and not your chest). If your stress rises to eight, you can go for a walk or to another room for a few minutes. Consider at what point your stress is unmanageable and when it would be sensible to go home.

 

Develop Some New Traditions

If you have joined a family, or there are divisions in your family, you could suggest getting everybody involved in developing new meaningful traditions. Trying to blend the old with the new is never easy, but I’m often thrilled by the creative solutions people come up with when resolving conflict within families.

Agree to Disagree

Facing Christmas after a recent argument with a family member can stimulate brilliant avoidance tactics. Contact the person you have argued with, and suggest to ‘agree to disagree’ for the Christmas period. If this is too tricky, a session with a relationship mediator might be useful.

Drink Non-alcoholic Drinks too

If alcohol becomes a problem at Christmas, ensure there are non-alcoholic drinks available for everyone. Google mocktail recipes for some great ideas, or try adding some mineral water to your usual drink for some festive fizz without the alcohol.


Jessica Webster is an Adelaide-based clinical psychologist working in private practice.

Words by Jessica Webster

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