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Relationship difficulties over the holidays 

by Samantha De Bono

Christmas can be a really difficult time for couples, especially if they've been having a tough time in their relationship beforehand. Couples who are already having problems may hang on in there through Christmas for all sorts of reasons; the children, families, to keep up appearances with relatives or friends and in the hope that the magical season of Good Will can make things better.

Everyone wants Christmas to be perfect, we get a picture in our mind of a glowing log fire, everyone sitting around sipping mulled wine, laughing raucously at each other's jokes, opening perfectly chosen gifts before eating at a table fit to feature in Ideal Home magazine. The children are a joy, playing calmly and peacefully in front of you and the two of you are getting along better than ever before.

But unfortunately, high expectations that Christmas will be perfect, causes more tension than the imagination is worth. We may find that we want different things from the holiday and that in itself can cause the bickering and sniping to start – just add too much alcohol, too much time with over excited children and not excited enough in-laws and the bickering can quickly escalate into full blown arguments. What started off as a warm fuzzy picture in your mind of the ideal Christmas, can turn into a picture which brings the problems in the relationship into sharp focus.

There is so much pressure to be happy with your partner and family over the Christmas period, but things like money, tiredness, debt, time management, drunkenness, hangovers, family problems and in-laws can be a very real burden.

So how do we cope with it all?

First of all, remember that emotions are running high at this time. Things that bother you during this period possibly wouldn't bother you nearly so much at any other time of the year. Try to respond but not react! Often when we are feeling tense, we react to a comment or the behaviour of someone without thinking. For example; you're in the hot kitchen trying to check up on the timings of the food, get some drinks, and throw away wrapping paper whilst clearing a space on the worktop. Your partner walks in with a bottle of wine and says "where should I put this?" Hot and bothered you snap "DO YOU REEEELY WANT ME TO ANSWER THAT? BECAUSE I CAN THINK OF ONE PLACE I'D LIKE YOU TO PUT IT" or "I'll drink it for you too shall I?". Partner either bites back or slopes of feeling hurt and/or angry (still holding the bottle of wine).

Reaction usually comes from a highly charged place, whereas response comes from a place of reason. Unfortunately when we are feeling stressed, our reasoning goes out of the window and we resort to reacting. To avoid this try to say what you are feeling rather than reacting to that feeling. So given the example above, the response could be "I'm feeling so hot and bothered I can't think right now" and if this is said in a way that isn't blaming or angry, it's far more likely to get a positive response from the other person.

During times of stress, our thinking becomes more rigid and distorted, judgements become over generalised and our basic belief about situations and other people becomes fixed. Our normal ability to think clearly is faulty when we are highly emotional and we become negative in our thinking. For example, a person who makes him/herself angry over not being offered a drink by the in-laws on Christmas Day, decides the in-laws are nasty and rude, and thinks how he/she would like to storm out of the house after telling them all to go to hell. He/she has not considered other reasons for not being offered a drink (for example, there's total chaos in the house and the in-law has not had a chance to).

So when/if you are feeling stressed, remember that:

(1) You cannot read minds, so don't start thinking things like "they don't have to tell me – I know they don't like me".

(2) Don't assume that your feelings are facts "I feel unwelcome, so I must be unwelcome".

(3) Jumping to conclusions is unhelful – "I wasn't offered a drink when I came in, so I'm obviously not wanted here".

If you think this way, it is easy to convince yourself negatively. Thinking like this will cause your mood to change and your behaviour too. Sticking two fingers up behind your in-laws head whilst pretending to karate chop her in the neck, because you have convinced yourself she hates you, is not going to do you any good at all. Even if things are difficult with partners or family members, try to be courteous. Thinking in a balanced way will help you to feel more positive, that in turn leads to positive behaviour which is likely to elicit a positive response towards you from others.

Try it, it works!