Tom Gregory gives his perspective on mediation as a newly qualified solicitor.
This is an article I wrote a few years ago. Whilst the world might be a bit different now some of the tips within the article are still as relevant now as they were then.
Christmas is traditionally thought of as the happiest time of the year. We all have memories from our childhood such as the excitement of opening presents around the glittering Christmas tree, the family around the table for Christmas dinner pulling crackers and eating turkey with all the trimmings. Yet sadly, for many couples Christmas can be a fraught, anxious and extremely stressful time.
Finding the right gift, money worries, family problems, and alcohol-fuelled celebrations all add to a cocktail of issues that can cause difficulties within relationships.
In recent years, the first Monday after the Christmas break has become synonymous with solicitors as the busiest time of the year – so-called ‘divorce day’. As solicitors, we see and hear first-hand the issues that most often cause difficulties and have compiled our own ’10 top tips on how to stay together at Christmas’.
If you have children, remember that Christmas is about them not you. Irrespective of everything else that is going on, try to make it a happy time for the children and keep them away from any adult difficulties as much as you can.
2. Help one another out/share the load
One of the most common complaints at Christmas is when one person feels that they are doing all the work: buying presents, wrapping presents, cooking dinner and doing the washing up whilst the other simply relaxes in front of the TV or spends time playing with the children. An imbalance such as this can cause resentment and lead to arguments and upset.
Discussing tasks at Christmas and agreeing who is responsible for each job is a good way of sharing the burden and ensuring everyone has some ‘down time’ during the festive break.
Furthermore, think about your other half. If they are slaving away whilst you are doing nothing, offer to help – I am sure they will appreciate it.
3. The family
We have all seen 'Only Fools And Horses' where Uncle Albert comes for Christmas and ends up staying with Del and Rodney but this sort of issue is commonplace at Christmas.
Whether it be the in-laws, friends or extended family it is important to consider your significant other and how they may feel about friends and family visiting. For how long and whether various family members from different sides will get on can be discussed well before the event and iron out any issues. Don’t be frightened - thank friends and family for coming, if said in the right way they will know it’s time to leave and won’t be offended.
4. Money troubles
It’s easy to go overboard at Christmas and over-compensate financially. Whilst thinking the more you spend the happier everyone will be is understandable often, overindulging financially can in fact have the opposite effect. If there are children, remember especially when they are young, the fact that it’s a present is the most important thing not necessarily what the present is. Quite often young children enjoy ripping the paper and playing with the box as much as the present itself.
5. Festive cheer/overindulging at Christmas
For many who celebrate Christmas, a little ‘festive cheer’ is part and parcel of the celebrations. Whether it’s a bucks fizz at breakfast, champagne at lunch or port with the cheese it all adds up and it’s all too easy to have a glass too many and to do or say something you might regret. If you do want a drink, pace yourself, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!
6. Managing your expectations at Christmas
At the end of the day, Christmas day is just another day. Don’t try too hard to make it special. If things are tough it might be that just spending time together as a family without argument will be a successful Christmas and trying hard to make things extra special might have the opposite effect.
7. Taking time out
If you are finding everything a bit much, it’s no sign of weakness to want some time out. Whilst it might be a quiet 10 minutes upstairs or a walk around the block, if you need time alone it’s better to have that than for things to boil over or that you say something you might later regret.
8. Listening to others
We all have friends who are more than happy to give advice at Christmas if there are troubles at home. Whilst it is always reassuring to have people we can rely on and talk to remember, always think about why our friends are saying things. It’s not uncommon for someone who has gone through a separation to give an idyllic view of light at the end of the tunnel or project their own experiences upon you. Also, do they really mean what they say or are they really jealous that you are with someone and they are not and simply want a ‘wingman’ for when they go out?
9. The big surprise
We all like a surprise at Christmas and you might think that the ‘grand gesture’ might be just that one thing that will put things right. Sadly it rarely is. A grand gesture will only paper over cracks and may even backfire and have the adverse effect to that hoped.
10. If you are struggling, talk to someone
Whether that might be a friend, family member, counsellor or professional bottling in emotion or stress is never a good idea and may lead to an explosion of emotion that could make matters far worse.
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