… you can take a break from them.
The post-Christmas divorce is now a well-documented phenomenon acknowledged by media and lawyers alike. D-day as it is sometimes referred to occurs in early January and is the day when there is an observable upsurge in couples officially calling time on their relationship.
For many Christmas can feel like a month-long endurance test of over-consumption resulting in a special kind of nervous exhaustion that can frazzle even the most harmonious relationships but Christmas itself is rarely the real cause of relationship breakdown. It is however, for some couples struggling to keep their relationships going up until this point; the final straw.
Well, Christmas is all about relationships, and about our expectations of relationships.
Think about it … We want Christmas to be perfect; we want to give and we want to receive. We want it to be different and special from other times of the year. We want Christmas to be an opportunity to spend quality time with the people we love. We want it to be a little bit magical; we want to feel a spark. At Christmas, we want to pay attention to the things and people that are important. We want to think about others and we want to be thought of. We want to feel secure, warm and safe. We wish each other well. We want Christmas to be fun, exciting and memorable.
Replace the word ‘Christmas’ with the word ‘relationship’ in the above paragraph, and you can soon begin to see why Christmas can quickly turn into a time when couples’ brewing relationship issues come to a painful and sometimes explosive head. In some ways our expectations for Christmas mirror our expectations of relationships and if our Christmas doesn’t live up to these expectations, we often see this as being a poor reflection of our relationships.
Christmas can end up exposing and highlighting what couples may have been lacking for some time. After all they might reason, if they aren’t having their needs met at Christmas of all times, when can they ever expect to have them met!? Hence, problems at Christmas seem all the more painful, and can sometimes feel all the more terminal.
Can the post-Christmas relationship breakdown be avoided?
Just as Christmas is rarely the real cause of relationship breakdown neither is it likely to be a miracle cure, however much we might want it to be. But Christmas is not the best time to tackle relationship problems either because, let’s face it, they are difficult to face; we are too busy, we may be too fearful, and we may have children who are relying on us as parents to make the perfect Christmas happen.
Sweeping problems under the carpet is not the answer though as often they don’t stay there for very long. Instead I often suggest to my clients that it is better to recognise their problems but to then purposefully agree to give themselves a proper break from them; just for Christmas. In practical terms this means agreeing to do everything but tackle their problems head-on during the festive period.
In other words, I encourage couples to manage their expectations and focus their energy on what is achievable during the Christmas holidays. For example: spending time and having fun with the kids; meeting up with friends and family, catching up with some TV box sets or even perfecting their best Turkey dinner ever (if that’s their thing!) Their relationship problems will no doubt still be there in the new year but they will have avoided turning Christmas into the ultimate ‘test’ of their relationship; a test that neither of them may be equipped to pass at this point.
If you have relationship problems and are already dreading Christmas, a recognised and mutually agreed break from problems might be the best Christmas present you can give one another. It allows you both to do Christmas without needing to think about your relationship, and also to have some time to ‘be’ without feeling a burning need to do anything about your relationship. The space and freedom that this deliberate step-back creates might just allow to you get through Christmas (or perhaps even enjoy it!) and reach January in a better frame of mind to face your problems or fix them.