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How to survive Christmas: maintaining your relationships and wellbeing

It’s almost Christmas. That means different things for each of us. For some, there is a hankering for the relief that comes with time away from the merry-go-round of daily life. For others, there is the pressure and haste of finding the perfect Christmas present when all they long for is calm, serenity and presence.  Others are reminded of the one’s they have lost. Many more fear the unfolding of relationship dramas that remind them how lost they feel in love.

You don’t need to be a relationship counsellor to know couple and family dramas are common during the festive season. This cliché is so ingrained in Western culture Hollywood releases a new movie every other season just to remind us. 

Family gatherings can be intense. Hurts and disappointments, judgements and fears may surface. Yet, all we really long for is to know we are loved and matter to those we care about the most.

Relationships can feel complex. Sometimes it is the simplest of things that make the biggest of difference when it comes to changing a relationship.

Be aware (or beware) of your emotional baggage

We all have emotional baggage or raw spots. If you haven’t had a chance to unpack yours, it might be helpful to leave your bag at home, in the car or outside the door rather than taking it along to your family gathering. Bringing past hurts and judgements to the Christmas table is a recipe for distress for everyone. Remember this is the season for giving and that includes giving our partner and other family members a break from our expectations and reminders of their supposed misgivings. 

Notice your thinking traps

We miss opportunities for connecting, caring and loving when we are focused on noticing all the things our partner or family member does wrong.

Playing out ‘worst-case scenarios’ while understandable (we are wired to keep ourselves safe) is not helpful to our wellbeing. Spending time worrying about what may or may not get said or done is stressful and influences how we interpret cues and other’s behaviour. There might be sunshine but all you are seeing are clouds. 

If on the other hand, you find yourself constantly finding fault with your partner or family member, (all things big and small) it is time to check yourself. What is that raw spot in you that keeps getting prodded and poked? It is important to realise this gets in the way of the connection we crave and has more to do with our own needs and how we ask for those needs to be met.

What signals you are sending?

We all have a need for intimacy, availability and security in our relationships. It is important to acknowledge these needs. When the signals we send or receive get mixed up, tensions flare, especially when:

  • We behave in a way that is not true to our genuine needs and feelings. I am not talking about letting rip, flame-throwing or stonewalling at the dinner table (that’s just reacting to your emotional baggage). I mean things like:
    • Appearing strong and self-sufficient when you really need comfort, care or support
    • Minimising the importance of something that is really important to us (playing a single note here and there, when there is a symphony of emotion, need or desire playing inside)
    • Allowing another to be with you on his or her, own terms, coming and going as they please when what you really long for is intimacy and quality time together.
  • Concerns are addressed by responding to facts without regard for feelings. 
  • Things that are said by a significant other are ignored, not responded to or the topic gets changed, the message doesn’t get across despite best efforts to communicate needs.
  • Feelings are invalidated or judged as being needy, sensitive or an overreaction, making you or another second-guess themself.

We all have a need for Accessible, Responsive, Emotionally engaged caregivers (our partner when we are grown-ups, our parents when we are kids), so be mindful of the signals you are sending this festive season.

To really connect with others and have a loving relationship we need to communicate in a sensitive loving way. Approaching conversations with L.O.V.E. helps to create safety, security and closeness in those more vulnerable moments.

And when we get it wrong? The greatest gift we can give ourselves and those we love is compassion.

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