How to handle family arguments at Christmas

From simmering resentments to full-blown family bust-ups, it can be tricky to avoid family arguments at Christmas. 

Expectations are high, there’s lots of preparation and cooking to get done – and many of us spend more time with extended family in one go than at any other time of year. 

So it’s perhaps no surprise that many of us fear family arguments over the festive season. 

When I asked on social media, most of you had experienced family tension at Christmas (or had to take swift action to nip it in the bud) – and one of you used to…until you decided to upsticks and move house!

There are lots of things you can do to help avoid family arguments happening in the first place, and steps you can take to deal with them if they do crop up during the festive season.

Here are my top tips – do let me know if you have any of your own!

Don’t expect perfection

I’m a total perfectionist and I constantly have to remind myself that things don’t have to be perfect 100% of the time. 

Accepting this can really help reduce the pressure we put on ourselves and allow us to cope better with anything that does go ‘wrong’. 

Set boundaries and expectations

If there are difficult relationships within your family group you can reduce the chance of tensions by setting boundaries in advance. 

When making arrangements for Christmas, be extremely clear about how long gatherings will last, what they’ll involve and who’ll be responsible for what. 

If you find spending time with certain people very tricky, instead of being cooped up in someone’s lounge together, arrange to meet for a drink or a meal, or go for a walk on neutral territory. This also gives you the option to leave if you need to.

However, if the thought of spending time with family fills you with absolute dread, then it’s totally okay to make alternative plans

Start some new and happier Christmas traditions by spending the festive period with friends or alternative family members.

Plan some time ‘off’

Even if your family dynamics are usually peaceful, it’s a good idea to give everyone some time away from each other (or just take some for yourself). 

Put on a Christmas film for those who want to watch it, provide quiet space for those who want to nap, take the dog for a walk (or just go by yourself), go for a run or do an online yoga class. 

Sticking to elements of your usual routine will help you relax and keep your cool.

Meditation or slow, mindful breathing can also really help. 

When I’m feeling stressed I close my eyes, breathe deeply and repeat the mantra ‘let go’ to myself. More often than not, any tension I’m feeling instantly melts away.

‘Do’ something

It’s a common festive tradition, but it’s one that serves an excellent purpose in my mind: going for a Christmas Day walk.

The change of scene and fresh air will be a distraction from any simmering arguments, wake everyone up after Christmas dinner and perhaps even help sober up anyone who needs it. 

A silly board game or charades can also keep everyone so busy they don’t have time to start picking fights with one another, and help lighten the mood. 

Have several games and activities on hand to keep everyone entertained.

Don’t rise to the bait

If a family member criticises your cooking or makes a comment about your life choices, try to take a moment before responding. 

We can’t control other people’s behaviour, but we can change how we respond to them. 

For example, you don’t have to react, defend yourself or try to persuade them to change their mind – it is possible just let them have their opinion and move on.

If you do want to respond, try to ask questions to ensure you understand the other person’s point of view and also share how you feel. 

Try to refer to yourself and your emotions, for example ‘I feel angry when…’ rather than saying ‘You make me feel angry,’ which is more likely to get the other person’s back up and make the situation worse.

It’s also a good idea to avoid trying to prove who’s right and wrong as this is likely to prolong the argument and cause more upset – aim to listen and show understanding in order to find a quicker resolution. 

It’s okay to take time out

If you’re still struggling to find a resolution to an argument or being around certain people is  becoming too much, take a step back and go for a walk.

And above all, be kind to yourself if you don’t manage to resolve a conflict in the way you’d hoped – it’s really hard to do. Just try to learn from the experience and give a different approach a go next time.

I hope these tips help you avoid or manage family arguments this festive season. 

If you would like further help, Relate is a brilliant charity and can be contacted for advice and support around all family relationships.

Alex x

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