17/12/2018 06:00 GMT

The Counsellor's Guide To Christmas (Or How To Survive Your Own Family)

Don't bring up Brexit, basically.

Christmas is a great opportunity to spent oodles of time with your family, but with all that money spent on their presents, not to mention entertaining three generations in one household, it can sometimes feel like it’s you in the pressure cooker, not the turkey.

No family is perfect and there are bound to be some tensions simmering away, whether they are historical dramas or new. Not to mention lots of alcohol thrown into the mix to make things even more volatile and unpredictable.

Relate counsellor Dee Holmes reassures HuffPost UK that there are ways you can minimise these tensions so that they don’t escalate into a full blown row over the Christmas pudding. 

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No one wants Christmas to end on a sour note so try these dos and don’ts to ensure you’re still friends in the new year. 

Do Get Out Of The House

Although it can be very tempting over Christmas to lie on the sofa and stuff your face with Quality Street from morning to night, cabin fever sets in quickly. If you feel temperatures rising (and we don’t mean your mum’s insistence that the thermostat is set to 30 degrees) then get outside and get some fresh air. 

Holmes says planning walks or activities is important. “Remember to factor in some events, even if it just a walk – boredom can create problems and a chance for tensions to surface. Take time out, a walk, reading your book, watching a film that means everyone is focused.”

Don’t Talk About Brexit

Okay, we should all know this by now – talking politics at the dinner table with your extended family rarely ends well. But when you throw Brexit, the backstop and the looming March 2019 deadline into the mix, this is a disaster waiting to happen. You know your uncle voted leave so don’t bring it up again.

“Steer clear of the topics that will create rows, you may only be together for a day or two so focus on positive interactions,” says Holmes. “If there is an issue that needs resolution maybe set aside time at another point to discuss it.” 

Do Hide In The Bathroom If Necessary 

Only joking (kind of). Although running away from your problems is never the answer, in the short term it might just buy you enough time to calm down if people are winding you up. There is a pressure at Christmas time to spend all our time together, but when else in the year are we expected to host three generations of family under the same roof for days on end?

Holmes says this is especially important for couples to think about. “A balance between some time for you and your partner and the wider family is important. If you are hosting Christmas it can be easy to become resentful so do ask for help. Try: ‘I need 10 minutes in the kitchen alone.’ Don’t expect people to mind read. Say it nicely but state what you mean.

She adds: “Remember you don’t have to do things all together all of the time. Some people may want to play a game, but not everyone. Respect each other’s wishes if you do want time out.”

Don’t Fall Into The Same Traps

Everyone has that person who manages to get under their skin whether it’s your younger brother talking over the TV or your mother-in-law making comments about your cooking. Avoid those dynamics that don’t work for you.

“You will have old habits that you fall into again when you are back in a family setting,” says Holmes. “Try to recognise what they are.” Instead of letting this just happen, try to get ahead of the behaviour before it annoys you. 

And if it’s already gone too far, try communicating openly to let them know: “Communicate openly if things annoy you. Use the ‘I’ phrase not ‘you’. “I feel upset by that” is far better than ‘you always try to upset me by saying that’.”

Do Go Easy On The Sherry

Last but by no means least, go easy on the alcohol. If you find that every Christmas things are cordial until everyone’s on their third glass of Bucks Fizz then you might want to think about cutting back. You can’t stop other adults drinking more but at least you’ll be able to manage your own behaviour with a more sober head.  

Holmes says: “Go easy on the booze, particularly if it tends to make you argumentative or if there is a family member present who you tend to clash with. If someone gets drunk and starts a row, then it is best if the sober members can just try and not rise to the bait.”

It may be useful before to discuss the rules beforehand, she adds, especially if children are around, as drunk scenes can be upsetting to them and it’s important to “model good behaviour”. This also means making sure there is food on standby. And last but not least be tactful if you plan on confronting someone else about their excessive drinking.