16/12/2013 09:59 GMT | Updated 15/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Why Do the In-laws Make Christmas So Stressful?

With the Christmas and New Year holidays weeks not too far away, many come knocking on my door during or immediately after the extended break to say how badly they have coped during the festive season.

Sadly, some couples, after many years of being together, tell me that they are thinking of separating, if not getting a divorce.

Often Christmas is a terribly difficult time, not only the expectations, but the rejections and let downs.

The trouble - not for all though - is being thrown together with family members, extended family members, or even strangers for several days in a row.

And there's little room for escape.

This can put untold stress on any relationship.

Many couples appear reluctant in the first place to spend Christmas with what they see as their interfering and opinionated mother-in-law, while others, and if newlywed, might want to spend their first few Christmases together alone or even create their own holidays for their young children.

If they have been unable to do have Christmas at their home in the first few years of marriage, it can be hard to break the pattern of going to one set or another of in-laws once the tradition has been established.

So often, young couples I talk to tell me that "next year" they are definitely not going to their parents or in-laws for the holidays, but will start having their own traditions in their own home - but it doesn't always work out that way.

The perennial words stress and holidays are often thoughts that go together like Turkey and cranberry sauce.

It is therefore not surprising that relationships suffer during the holiday period and come under such terrible strain.

Holidays put such an incredible amount of pressure on people and their relationships, and once people have time to start internalising about what they have in life, they might use Christmas as a time to evaluate things and decide the relationship they're in is not exactly a happy one or the one they want.

In addition, Christmas and New Year often offer a false sense of happiness when it's considered the "done thing" for people to get together, irrespective of what their own personal wishes might be.

People have an expectation of cheerfulness and sometimes what I term, false bonhomie that often this is too much - they then start to look inward and examine their own relationships or marriages and admit how unhappy they are.

Sometimes couples decide to stay together in the run up to Christmas and make a conscious decision not to disrupt the family life before the holidays.

This is so that they can keep up the pretence that everything is "just like it always is" in order not to upset close family, and possibly even the children.

Do I have any advice for couples who are constantly fighting? It's hard to give advice - and that's not what I do in my consulting rooms - but what I would say, is whatever the problems are, it's best to talk about it, rather than brush it all under the carpet - or under the Christmas tree where the real issues might never get deal with.