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Can you relate to this?

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Olive Braman reminds us that Christmas is not sweetness and light for all people

Last year, just before the festive season, a friend of mine set off for her local supermarket to stock up with food and drink. But as soon as she wheeled in her trolley, heard the carols, saw the decorations, and the throngs of shoppers, she burst into tears and fled empty-handed. 


The prospect of spending Christmas alone is not, for many people, a cheering one. But Christmas with the family can have its downside too. One year we were begged by friends to join them for the day to help avoid what had become their Christmas tradition – the family row! Our presence seemed to have a calming effect until the children started a fire which necessitated the services of the fire brigade. We spent Boxing Day cleaning smoke off begrimed walls. 

Even without the fire brigade, quarrels, tension and disappointed hopes are all at times part of the festive season. This must surely account for the 25% increase in January in telephone calls to Relate, the UK’s largest independent, counselling service. 

An NOP survey commissioned by Relate showed that 73% of people in Britain saw spending time with their loved ones as one of the most important aspects of Christmas but, all too frequently, their counsellors hear tales of hurt and dashed hopes. 

So for this Christmas, Relate is offering an unusual gift - something for yourself or maybe for a special friend (sorry, it’s not a free gift, but it could prove great value for money). It’s called the Insight Discovery Report, and is an online interactive questionnaire designed to reveal your attitudes to self, family and friends. Ideal for the pre-Christmas run-up to prevent problems before they arrive. It is designed for all circumstances, including newly married, new parents, separated or bereaved. See details at end of this column. 

Relate are also offering a few tips which can share with you now.  Some of the ideas are pretty obvious, but I would be willing to wager that very few of us have thought of preparing ourselves for the emotional strains which the celebration frequently brings. In planning the practical things we often push our feelings to one side, and then they can suddenly overwhelm us.    


Here’s the Relate way to prepare for Christmas  

      Share your thoughts about how you want Christmas to be. Your partner is not a mind reader, nor are you, so be open and honest with each other, especially about any fears you are harbouring about the holiday period. 

      Think about what your family might want to get out of Christmas this year.  Recognise how your family is changing, and discuss and plan how you all want to spend Christmas 

      Don’t spend all of your time looking out for others. Think about how you fit in, and remember that patience and compromise will probably win the day. 

      Never stop loving your children; remember Christmas this year gives them their memories for the future. 

      Spend some time resolving any niggles that may have been building up between you and your partner over the past few months. Not doing so may lead to arguments later. 

      Talk realistically and well in advance of Christmas about spending. In Relate’s experience, how money is handled in a relationship reveals a lot about it. Money is the major cause of arguments among couples. 

      Think about the way you communicate. Try using “I feel” or “When you say or do that, I..” These openings are often helpful in leading to a constructive discussion. Watch out for that here we go again feeling, with old, familiar arguments and accusations spoiling any progress. 

      Pleasant surprises are nice at Christmas, but they do need planning. 

    If someone has planned a surprise for you, appreciate the effort and thought behind it. 

      Spend time talking about the best and worst Christmases you've had together in the past and what lessons you can learn from them. 

      Presents can give a powerful message in a relationship – it may be a message you didn’t intend. When selecting gifts, try and reflect the person in the flattering way that they see themselves and not, perhaps, in the more mundane ways that you might see them. 

      Spend an evening reminiscing about childhood Christmases - the good and the bad - and discuss the impact they’ve had on your view of Christmas as an adult. 

      Don’t be afraid of creating your own traditions – live in the Christmas present, not the Christmas past. 

      Give yourself permission to do things differently this year, and give others space to do the same. 

Some thoughts if you are newly single 

      Make concrete plans for the holidays. Look up people you want to spend your time with and book them in. You still have friends and family if you are newly single! 

      Appreciate the fact that you will not have to make as many compromises this festive season. Are there things you have never been able to do in the past but can this year? 

      Christmas might be a good time to rest and recoup.  

      Share your feelings with close friends. Remember too, you can call them if you feel low – they won’t mind. 

      Doing things for others, in a positive frame of mind, makes you feel better about yourself. 

      If you want to, have a grieving time by setting out photographs and mementos and having a good cry. 

If this is your first Christmas as a new couple 

      Establish yourselves as a new unit rather than becoming the property of two families and yo-yoing between them. 

      Discuss it ahead of time. Agree on what is important to you both at Christmas. It may be you want to spend it on a beach in Bali. You will only have one first Christmas together, so give yourselves some wonderful memories. 

      Don’t just enjoy your love-making, enjoy talking about it and don’t be afraid to ask. 

      Don’t feel inhibited about sharing your happiness. 

      If difficult visits are in store, talk about how you both might handle what might come up and plan the lengths of your stay and your exits. 

If you are bereaved this Christmas 

      Accept that you will feel sad and allow yourself to grieve. 

      Speak up about how you are feeling if you wish to. 

      It’s OK to have fun and enjoy yourself, you needn’t feel guilty. 

      Use and continue to call on your family and friends for support – and let them know what it means to you to have them there. 

      It’s OK to talk about the person you are grieving for. Reminisce about Christmases past, other good times, and how they enriched your life. By doing this, you will giving permission to others to do likewise. 

      Try and keep in mind how other members of your family and circle are feeling; allow them to grieve too. 

      Remember you may have to make allowances for some people who cannot deal with grief – apparent indifference may not be lack of feeling. 

      It’s OK to want to spend time alone. You may find yourself inundated with invitations, but don’t accept offers because you feel you ought to. 

If an anniversary falls over the Christmas time, think in advance how you want to spend that day.    

The Relate website is where their Insight Discovery Report offers a psychometric tool which can give people an insight into who they are and how they relate to others. The evaluator can be completed on line in 15 minutes and you pay 15 to receive a personalised e-mailed report.  



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