Don’t let the ghosts of Christmas past haunt your relationship this year

“The impact of Christmas on a relationship is massive,” warns a Relate MTB counsellor. “And with the Christmas build-up starting earlier every year the stress starts early too.”

As Christmas lights are switched on and our ‘to do’ lists grow longer, Relate MTB’s expert counsellors offer 5 easy tips to ensure that the ghosts of your Christmas past don’t ruin Christmas present.

Just like the three ghosts in Charles Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol, our counsellors have identified three potential pitfalls for couples – whether it is your first Christmas together or whether you need to bury the memories of disastrous festivities last Christmas, couples often have clashing hopes from Christmas, either repeating previous happy memories or avoiding past disasters.

  • Money – how much is it acceptable to spend and on what?
  • Families & friends – who do you each want to spend Christmas with, and for how long? Your expectations may differ and your in-laws might have different expectations too. This can be a notoriously tricky area for new couples, newly-weds and new parents.
  • Alcohol – too much Christmas cheer can cause Christmas misery, whether you or your partner over indulges or whether your guests’ or hosts’ drinking causes embarrassing, hurtful or violent behaviour.

The solution to all three is to start a conversation about Christmas early, says Relate MTB counsellor ‘Wendy’*.

“It always comes down to better communicating,” she says. “But make sure you start the conversation well in advance and tackle one issue at a time. Plans get locked down earlier than ever and then people can feel trapped.”

Relate MTB’s Top Tips for Christmas present:

  1. Never agree an arrangement until you have discussed it with your partner; never assume it is what you both want.
    Counsellor’s advice: A useful response to an invitation to spend Christmas Day is ‘That sounds really interesting, thanks for the invitation, let me check and get back to you’. This gives you time to discuss what you both want and to think of a strategy if you don’t want to accept. That might be ‘We would love to come to you at 4pm’ rather than committing to the whole day.
  2. Ask an open question. This is especially important for parents whose adult children are in a new relationship, newly-weds or new parents.

Counsellor’s advice: Instead of saying ‘Come and spend Christmas Day with us,’ ask ‘What would you like to do for Christmas this year?’ And suggest they talk it over and call you back later with a response. If you are going to reject an invitation, work out a kind strategy together. If you have always spent Christmas Day with your mum and dad or in-laws but would prefer to do your own thing, why not suggest a compromise this year leading up to a complete change next year?

  1. Discuss what makes Christmas special for you.

Counsellor’s advice: This should be your first conversation – the earlier the better. Is it about putting your feet up and not going anywhere? Or is it about going to as many parties as possible and seeing all your friends? Or perhaps spending time with family and having active days out? Who loves to welcome everyone around for food, drink and games and who wants to shut the front door and chill out? Discussing this early allows you to fulfil Christmas for both of you – even if it means building in some time apart to do your own thing.

  1. Agree a budget in advance.

Counsellor’s advice: Money can be a huge pressure, children have high expectations and we feel the need to spend a lot, regardless of whether we can afford to. It’s a common difference in couples for one to be a natural saver and the other a natural spender and that gets exacerbated at Christmas. Again, have a conversation early on about what you can afford, work out a strategy such as giving home-made presents to relatives and agreeing a limit on what you will spend on gifts for people. The secret is to talk about it before it becomes an area of conflict.

  1. Get out in the fresh air whatever the weather.

Counsellor’s advice: Something as simple as changing the setting can ease tensions. Unless you are working over Christmas, you are likely to be cooped up together 24/7, often with extra guests too, the kids are off school and all normal routine stops. It’s the worst time of year for weather, the days are short and it is easy to feel trapped so wrap up warm and take the whole family out for a long walk, whatever the weather.

Open, honest, non-judgmental conversations are the key to a happy relationship – and not just at Christmas time. Relate MTB provides a safe space with an expert relationship counsellor to talk about your feelings, your past experiences and how they affect you emotionally. Why not treat each other to a relationship MOT this Christmas? Visit  or call Relate MTB on 01628 625320 to make an appointment.

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