With the Christmas holidays, commonly referred to as the ‘silly season’ approaching fast, this is traditionally a time of the year when relationships run into problems, marriages fracture, families encounter conflict and relationship stress.
It’s not surprising considering you’re:
- dreading socialising with people you don’t normally spend time with (or have no desire to see)
- tired and exhausted due to interstate or international travel to see family
- stressed from hurriedly buying last-minute presents for loved ones
- anxious about shopping and cooking for large family get-togethers
- suffering from over-eating and drinking more than usual
This can create a perfect storm for interpersonal conflict and relationship stress like no other time of the year.
So here are my top communication skills you can use to help you survive the silly season.
1. Communicate clearly about what needs to be done and how you’re going to do it
There’s no doubt about it. Christmas and the surrounding holiday period is a stressful time for the best of people because there’s often a lot to organise, plan and do.
A lot of conflict arises due to misunderstandings and miscommunications about what needs to be done and how to do it.
So it’s important to take time to make sure you sit down and have a planning session with your partner and family before the holiday chaos begins.
Use the communication skill of assertiveness to clearly state what needs to be done, what you want help with, and when you want tasks done.
Make sure you and your partner or family member is on the same page and everyone is clear about tasks and time frames to minimise arguments and conflict.
2. Be clear about your social commitments with your partner and family
Conflict can often arise when there are many competing demands on your time due to the increased social engagements during the holiday period.
Some forward communication can make all the difference here by letting your partner know in advance what your plans are and the invitations you’ve accepted.
This allows your partner to be prepared in advance for what’s coming up and they don’t get any nasty surprises.
Take time to sit down with your partner without any distractions so you can go through your diary together.
Listen to what they want, express what you want and then look at how you can make your social commitments work without exhausting yourself in the process.
3. It’s OK (and even good) to say no
This leads to my next communication tip.
Don’t fall into the trap of being a ‘people pleaser’ and saying yes to every holiday invitation you receive.
It’s OK to say no to social engagements or other commitments during this busy social time.
In fact, it’s a good practice to say “I’ll get back to you about that”, so you have time to think it through, make sure it fits into your schedule, and you can confirm with your partner or family.
In the long run, it’s better to hold off answering the invitation to give yourself time to consider it.
If you’re an unassertive type, you may initially feel uncomfortable holding off giving an answer, but it’s worth it in the long run and will make for a more relaxed Christmas and holiday with your loved ones.
4. Practice holding your tongue with the relatives (especially if you’ve been drinking)
We all know what it’s like to spend time with relatives that are odd, you dislike, or you just don’t get along with.
And Christmas often brings you all together in the one place. It’s like a chemical experiment where you don’t know what the outcome will be, but it could be explosive.
Add to the mix excessive consumption of food and alcohol and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
If you feel the impulse to react, be argumentative or start World War III with another family member – don’t!
If you notice yourself becoming irritated with a relative, subtlely remove yourself from any situations where you could end up in conflict.
Removing yourself from possible conflict situations will mean your Christmas won’t be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
5. Share appreciation and gratitude with your family and friends
This is a communication skill that’s easy to do and feels really good.
Christmas is a lovely time to reflect on your relationships and let the people in your life know how much you care about them.
Share your appreciations with your partner, your children and the relatives you care about.
It can be as simple as writing a meaningful note in a card, a toast at the dinner table or a direct sharing with the person you care about.
Research shows that those people that practice gratitude and share appreciations in their relationships are happier than those that don’t.
6. Don’t open old wounds by bringing up the past
All families carry unfinished business from the past that can be easily opened like an old unhealed wound, when you come together for the holidays.
Now is not the time to address those unresolved issues.
If you’re aware that you have some unfinished business in your family, park it and make an intention to deal with it in the new year.
This can be done in therapy, or by dealing with the relationship issue directly with the family member.
But whatever you do, don’t bring it up during your Christmas time together.
It won’t be productive, and you’ll likely just inflame the situation while ruining Christmas for everyone involved.
7. Reflect on what you want to say before you say it
It was sent by PR executive Justine Sacco before she boarded a plane to Africa. Little did she know that while she was flying, social media was in an uproar about her Tweet and she no longer had a job when she landed.
This is a great example of someone communicating without reflecting and considering the consequences.
The same goes for you during the silly season.
Consider the consequences of what you say before you say it.
This will often avoid an upsetting situation that can put a damper of everyone’s holiday.
8. Deal with your differences behind closed doors
If you find yourself in disagreement with your partner while sharing time with family, make sure you deal with it behind closed doors.
Nobody likes to see other people airing their dirty laundry in public, plus it makes for an awkward social situation while your family is witness to your relationship problems.
If your partner does trigger you, hold onto the issue and raise it again when you have some time together alone.
It’s also likely you will feel less reactive as well as be able to work through the issue when you’ve calmed down.
Do you need relationship help?
photo credit: kt.ries
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.