How to survive a family Christmas

Four ways to stop family feuds this Christmas

Relate – The UK’s leading relationship support charity

by Relate | The UK's leading relationship support charity

Helping people of all ages to strengthen their relationships


For lots of people, the prospect of Christmas being round the corner makes them feel warm and fuzzy. Travelling home to see the family, buying gifts, enjoying a warm hot chocolate on a cold winter night. Bliss!

But for many others, it brings anything but cheer. For them, Christmas means putting up with family members they don’t get on well with, constant bickering or even all-out arguments.

If you’re one of the latter, don’t worry. It’s very common to feel some apprehension before going home for the holidays.

We spoke to relationship charity Relate, whose non-judgmental counselling services helped more than 1.5 million couples, families, young people and friends last year.

Here are their top tips for surviving Christmas with the family.

Avoid them in the first place

The best way to avoid an argument is to steer clear of it to begin with. A lot of this is to do with how you communicate with each other. Although it can be really easy to fall back into old, unhelpful habits when seeing family, making a few changes can make a real difference.

Try to avoid personal insults or being childish (what is it about being around our parents that makes us regress so much?). If you’re bothered about something, try using ‘I’ phrases. This means talking about how you feel rather than lashing out, which is only likely to create a reaction in kind. So, instead of ’Shut up! Why do you always talk to me like that?’, try ‘When you talk to me like that, it makes me upset’.

Take time out

If things are getting heated, sometimes it’s smart to create a little space. Go for a walk, spend a little time in a different room, go read a book or listen to music - whatever helps you cool down. Even if you’re struggling to avoid bickering, removing yourself from the situation can mean things don’t progress to a full blown row.

Avoid boredom

Boredom is one of the biggest causes of tension over the holidays. It’s no wonder really: all those hours spent cooped up together indoors, not moving around much - sometimes for days at a time!

It can be wise to vary things a little. Go for a day trip - or even just a short walk around the neighbourhood. Go to see some friends. Have a meal out.

And you don’t have to do everything as a group. Sometimes it’s useful to go off and do things in ones and two so you can all get a bit of breathing space.

Don't go over old wounds

Being back with family can take you back to difficult memories or more difficult times in your life. Long term resentments can bubble over when you’re spending an extended period of time together. But it’s rarely a good idea to address these in the middle of Christmas dinner.

Sometimes, it’s better to avoid certain topics altogether. If you’re feeling frustrated or upset, just remember: you aren’t staying forever. If you think you can manage it, it might just be easiest to put up with things until the trip’s over.

But if you do think it’s something that needs confronting at one point, it’s much better to set aside time when everyone’s feeling calm - perhaps as part of a separate visit - to talk about things properly.

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