How To Be There For A Partner Who Struggles With Family Issues At Christmas

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Christmas is a time for celebration and festivities, and with that often comes a bit of a change of pace to normal life. The festive season can drag up old family family arguments and issues, and when there’s so much pressure to be joyful all the time, tensions can start to fray. Celebrating Christmas with your partner's family is also a pretty big deal, whether it’s the first time you’ve done it or the tenth. But as well as dealing with your own emotions, you may also need to be there for a partner who struggles with their family over the festive season. You can’t get involved with a family argument and shouldn’t be made to feel like you have to. However, it’s important that your partner feels heard and seen. Here's how to ensure they do.

No matter how close you are to your family, your relationship with your nearest and dearest can be complicated. When many people don’t see their family all year round, meeting at the Christmas dinner table can drag up old dynamics and disputes. Being the partner of someone in that position can be pretty difficult too. You’re there because of your other half, but you’re not about to get into a fight with Auntie Jane about Brexit. Speaking to The List, psychologist Dr. Ben Michaelis explained how fundamental your partner’s family are. He said, “we learn about love from our parents. It's part of the authority that parents get. Whether we move towards the model of love that our parents provide for us or we move away from it, it's still their model that we base our assumptions on."

Whether it’s conflicting views or past resentments there are ways that you can support your partner through the festive period and come out unscathed and still in a relationship. Dating & Relationship Expert Sarah Louise Ryan says, “if things are tricky with the immediate or extended family of your partner you can turn things around energetically to make this a wonderful time of year for the two of you. Start new traditions, make new memories and embrace the happiness bubble between the two of you. Love starts with ourselves and is shared between partners in a relationship so put both of you first and support each other through those tricky family relationships. Just let each other know that you have totally got Christmas as a team and you’ll make it a great time of year, I’m sure.”

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Being mindful of the position your partner is in is crucial and not offering your opinion when it’s not asked for is key. Ryan says: “it’s important to think about why we’re passing an opinion, is it constructive? Is it necessary? And, will something positive or helpful come of it? If it’s just to pass judgement perhaps it’s better not to share. The holidays can be a trying time as it in on all relationships, not just romantic.”

Instead there are other things you can do to really take the pressure off you both. Ryan says, “ensure you ask lots of questions about others around the table to deflect the attention and energy investment from yourself, take deep breaths and remember that it’s your holiday too and so find ways to enjoy it, snippets of time for yourself. Maybe suggest games to play or bring things along to the in-laws that will provoke engagement between all, rather than all the attention landing on you two and your relationship." She continues:

“Also, set clear boundaries with your partner like a code word or action so they know if or when either of you feel like you need a helping hand in conversation or a little time out. Last but not least, it’s important to remember just be yourself, you can’t be anyone else and the authentic you should just shine through."

Christmas should be the most wonderful time of the year but it often brings up more than old monopoly rivalries. If your partner has a fraught relationship with their family, other than be there, they'll almost certainly appreciate your support over the festive season.