in-laws, Christmas, conflict

Picture this: It’s Christmas day; you’ve got 12 people staying with you – including your critical, difficult mother-in-law, your drunk, obnoxious uncle and four kids under three – and instead of enjoying the festivities in a calm, serene manner, you’re hiding in the pantry, swigging on a bottle of champagne (French, obvs) to calm your frayed nerves.

Related: Managing Stress In The Lead-Up To Christmas

The festive season can bring great joy, but great stress – it ain’t easy dealing with a multitude of difficult personalities when your extended family unite under one roof for the holidays.

We can choose our friends, not our family, so the saying goes – but your urban tribe will probably be of no good use to you when battling your own private Vietnam on Christmas day, they’ll most likely be too busy trying to win their own battles! And, on a serious note, the festive holiday season proves so stressful, sad and lonely for some people each year that for Lifeline’s 24 hour crisis support telephone line, 13 11 14, the days leading up to Christmas and New Year are its busiest time of the year.

So, how do we keep Christmas stress on the down low? Here are some fast tips from relationship experts and Lifeline alike:

  • Try not to expect too much – aiming for the “perfect” Christmas or New Year’s Eve and assuming that everyone will be on their best behaviour is unrealistic.
  • Keep tidy – there’s a temptation to drink too much at Christmas, but alcohol can fuel arguments and cause conflict.
  • Avoid the expectation of disapproval, because this leads to misunderstandings – everything your family says then sounds like a criticism which may not have been intended.
  • In-laws should avoid giving unsolicited advice and criticism.
  • If you are the recipient of unsolicited advice and feel criticised, don’t be over-sensitive. State calmly that, yes you can see their point but you and your partner prefer to do things differently.
    in-laws, Christmas, conflict
  • Try your best to treat in-laws (this goes both ways of course) as you would your friends: be tactful, thoughtful and kind.
  • Set firm boundaries with your in-laws in a calm way about things you feel strongly about, for example: children’s bedtimes and eating sweets, so that in-laws don’t inadvertently break the rules.
  • Look for mutual topics of interest that are not contentious, avoid topics that are likely to lead to conflict. Remember, most grandparents love and are very interested in their grandchildren and want what is best for them. This is a good place to enhance the relationship – stick to talk of them.
  • If you have a house full of relatives, keep calm by reminding yourself that they are most likely very pleased to be there and grateful for the time they can spend with their grandchildren. Try to focus on the positives and not expect disapproval or criticism.
    in-laws, Christmas, conflict
  • Know your limits and listen to your emotions. If you need to calm down, take a walk or find a quiet place (pantries can come in handy).
  • If times are tough financially, don’t be a hero and try to shoulder all the costs alone. Make a plan as a family for a Christmas that is reasonable, or ask people to chip in and/or bring a plate.

If you are feeling in crisis, tell a trusted friend or family member, or talk to your GP/counsellor, or phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au.

Main image via gawker.com; cartoon via lifewithasideofsarcasm.wordpress.com and final image via www.womansday.com