Family arguments during Christmas is as natural as Yorkshire puds with gravy; it’s just going to happen.
Whether over something as minor as who ate the last Ferrero Rocher or bigger issues such as beliefs over vaccines, it can make for an uncomfortable experience.
Chances are, as we’re still in a pandemic, that the Covid-related arguments are more common, especially as laws are constantly changing.
Recently, we’ve seen the government cut the isolation period for coronavirus to seven days instead of a full 10. That might make you want to come home early, but family members may disagree over how safe it is.
Or perhaps Covid anxiety has made you the eschew Christmas dinner altogether this year, which might cause tension with loved ones who would rather you went home.
It’s understandable that we’d fight during this time – we all have different boundaries, hygiene expectations, and general attitudes to the pandemic.
But there are ways you can approach the whole thing that ensures you won’t be breaking family ties for good, and can stand to be with them by next Christmas.
Clinical psychologist Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo says it’s important to remember what we value about spending time with our families and not get too caught up in discussion topics.
“It can be helpful to think about setting boundaries for conversations and even certain topics if you know that it is likely that there will be heated discussions,” she says. “As difficult as this may be, it can mean the difference between having a nice time or falling out unnecessarily. Boundaries may include having a moratorium on certain topics such as ‘no discussing X during Christmas dinner’ or even having a ban on topics altogether e.g. ‘we are not talking about the pandemic on Christmas day’.”
If you do veer into those heated topics then you can still make sure that you’re able to discuss it while staying calm and collected.
“If you feel able to have specific conversations then maybe again think about the best place and time to do this. Is it a discussion to have 1:1 or amongst the whole family? Is there a time that would be most suited to having the discussion? Factors in other variables such as alcohol use and how this may impact interactions,” advises Dr Quinn-Cirillo.
“It can be helpful to utilise some techniques such as using a calm and lowered tone of voice. Sitting adjacent rather than directly opposite each other can be less confrontational. The use of validation may help such as saying ‘I can see this is important to you’, or ‘I can see that you strongly believe this’ followed by ‘but we will have to agree to disagree on this one’.”
You could also take it outside, she says, and go on a walk to chat about it.
“Although emotions can run high, try and avoid making personal remarks about the individual rather than the content of what they say,” she adds. “Avoid being hurtful or saying things such as their opinion is ‘wrong’. This can lead to more arguments and further intensify emotions.”
It’s also crucial that you have a way to cool off, and/or an exit strategy, should things get too much.
Dr Quinn-Cirillo continues: “Set a limit for your tolerance that includes an exit plan such as leaving the dinner table to do something in the kitchen such as the washing up.
“Think about how you can have time out such as a space you can go to engage in some self care for a few moments such as watching something on your laptop in another room, reading a book, a short walk or a shower/bath. This can help reduce overwhelm, reset and build up resilience again.”
If you can Dr Quinn-Cirillo also recommends taking some time out for yourself before relatives arrive, which will help to build up resilience and reduce stress levels.
And if you absolutely can’t endure a day with family, then don’t forget, there are other joyous ways to spend the festive time.