The idea of an extended family get-together can be absolutely the best thing about Christmas for many people, but for some, we have to acknowledge, it can be the most stressful. Even in intact families problems can arise if in-laws don’t get along: I’m lucky with my own in-laws so I asked a counsellor colleague, Helen Weston, for her advice.
She told me: “A lot of game-playing goes on at Christmas when families meet– and I don’t just mean the Trivial Pursuit or Wii variety. Underneath the surface, rival family cultures are vying for dominance and there is nothing so powerful and sacrosanct as a family tradition hallowed by years of childhood memories. The memories don’t even have to be that good – in fact the retelling of family disasters can be much more bonding than the success stories. The important thing to remember is that you will be holed up together in unnaturally close quarters for a minimum of three days, which in most crime novels leads to at least five corpses, so be ready. The gloves will be off, so you need to have a strategy for reducing the body count.
The key thing to remember is that Christmas is very territorial, so if you are the host you can set the rules. Seize your chance and ensure that you build in times when you and your partner have to go off on your own for a few hours – even if you only go for a walk. Make sure that your in-laws, young and old alike, are down to cook some of the meals so that you have a rest and they have a chance to display their superior culinary powers. Build in siestas. Do whatever is necessary to ensure that you all have space from each other, so that you can come back together with pleasure rather than murderous feelings. Smile!”