It’s Christmas, everyone’s been looking forward to it for ages although your mother-in-law is coming to stay (nightmare, she can be very critical), and the kids are totally hyper.

You’re just sitting down to a well-earned glass of wine and a mince pie when your husband/partner storms in with a list of criticisms and complaints. He says the house is a ‘pigsty’, you didn’t buy enough wine and why didn’t you fill the car up with petrol… ? You go ballistic – from 0-100 in 20 seconds. You resent the fact that he has been at the office all day having an easy time whilst you have taken the day off work only to elbow your way through the supermarket with two fighting children in tow, trying to get it all done. You feel unappreciated and unfairly criticised.

You have a stand-up row in front of the kids; neither of you feels like backing down. You both end up feeling used and abused and it isn’t even Christmas yet.

Familiar, yes, and most couples usually negotiate their way through these flashpoints but if there are underlying resentments then family proximity at Christmas can make things go from bad to worse. It may feel hopeless at the time; you may feel unappreciated, taken for granted and worse, but it’s worth taking a step back to examine your couple-dynamics. Here are 10 top tips from an experienced therapist and mediator to help you win through the Christmas crises. Learn to be your own couple-therapist!

  1. Don’t row in front of the children. They find it unsettling and frightening even if they don’t show it.
  2. There is no point in arguing anyway. Arguing means that people turn up their personal volume and shout their views and opinions and criticisms; nothing ever moves on or gets resolved. Debate by all means, talk from your own perspective, say how you feel (but not how he or she ‘makes‘ you feel).
  3. When people in high stress shout back louder, this often makes the other person deafer. The only thing you’ll achieve is a sore throat! Can you visualise taking off your own shoes and stepping into your partner’s? How do things look from their standpoint?
  4. Avoid blame; be a grown-up. Blame is about not taking personal responsibility. Man up….
  5. Remember you are a player in this story. You are co-creating the dynamic. Stop and ask yourself what your part is in the argument.
  6. You cannot both be right but you both can have a point. Be generous and concede if your partner has a point.
  7. Relationships function on goodwill and give and take. Avoid putting workload sharing under your personal microscope. If you feel resentful that your other half is not pulling her weight then discuss, give ideas, ask how you can support her, don’t argue.
  8. Be a role model for your children; they are learning all the time from you and your behaviour. What sort of grown-ups do you hope they will be?
  9. Remember what brought you together into this relationship. Hold onto it, discuss it and nurture it in rough times.
  10. Even if your mother-in-law is staying, never criticise a person’s mother to them, you’ll never win!

Have a peaceful Christmas!