Warning of festive relationship stress

The four festive ‘Fs’ — finance, family, food, and fantasy — are responsible for much of the tension in the run-up to and during Christmas, according to a relationship counselling service.

Maura Leahy is clinical director at Relationships Ireland, which offers advice to couples and families.

She said overspending, spending too much time in fraught family situations, stressing about creating perfect Christmas meals, and having unrealistic notions about what the holiday should involve, all put stress on relationships and can engender confrontation.

Ms Leahy warned that Christmas can be “fraught with anxiety and stress” for families who have serious budgetary constraints. She advises people to make a list of essential spending and figure out a budget.

“Even if you do go over a little, it will not be as shocking as spending willy-nilly,” she said.

She warned that spending time with family can generate anxiety and stress.

“If you find yourself saying a lot of ‘shoulds and have-tos’ perhaps you need to re-evaluate your plans. If you find yourself dreading family time, perhaps you could limit the time spent with them,” she suggested.

“If extended time together puts on additional strain on an already challenged relationship, take a breath or a timeout which will give you the opportunity to respond rather than react.”

Ms Leahy said people must remember that, when it comes to food, Christmas is “not a trial for MasterChef”.

“Cook to your ability and, again, delegate,” she said. “It can be a great way to involve extended family members and gives them an opportunity to share their traditions with you.”

You have to separate the ‘picture-perfect’ Christmas day from the reality in very many homes.

“Step back and take stock,” said Ms Leahy. “There is no such thing as the perfect Christmas, so you can relax. Keep things simple and delegate.

“What can help to make it perfect for you is to make time for yourself. Take a walk, a bath, a moment to breathe and be present.”

Relationships Ireland psychotherapist Bernadette Ryan, has said warring couples should try to “focus on the children” over Christmas and “agree to a truce”.

“If you want to voice a concern, try saying ‘I’m feeling stressed because’ rather ‘you are stressing me out because’,” said Ms Ryan.

“Accusing somebody will always fan the flames. Try and communicate clearly but ask yourself do you really need to say this, if it can wait let it wait.”


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