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Why Christmas creates couple conflict

Published in Press Releases on December 11th 2019

Avoiding unrealistic expectations about idyllic family time is an important, but if things become difficult in relationships, seeking help is advised.

Tavistock Relationships, the internationally renowned charity providing couple therapy at two London clinics and online, is encouraging people experiencing relationship difficulties to seek support ahead of Christmas.

Kate Thompson, a couple psychoanalytic psychotherapist at Tavistock Relationships, explains:

“Here at Tavistock Relationships we always see a significant rise in couples and individuals seeking relationship support in the New Year.

“Relationships are hard to do at the best of times and during the festive season many couple relationships are sorely tested.  The pressure created by the relentless public bombardment of advertising images selling products and lifestyle choices, where every moment appears to be filled with picture-perfect families sharing fairy tale meals – is often in painful contrast with our everyday lived experience.

“Christmas is primarily for children, a time of magic and surprise, presents, being looked after and spoiled perhaps.  For parents it can be a time of domestic hard work, financial concern, pressure to live up to the expectations of their children, reunions with extended family and way too much rich food and alcohol. This year there is political uncertainty and turmoil to add to the already long list. 

“Problems with in-laws is often cited as a reason for couple distress and extended family tends to descend on each other over the festivities. Adults tend to ‘regress’ with Christmas contact with parents – which is odd for a partner to witness.  If your partner is usually a great negotiator and lover of fairness, it can seem odd to see her fighting for the last mince pie with her sister, as if her life depended on it.  Rivalry with siblings doesn’t magically disappear with maturity, and jostling for parental attention is often maintained throughout a lifetime.  Some couples complain of not recognising the parts of their partner they are seeing.  Worse still, they may be exposed to parts of their spouse that remind them exactly of the in-laws they are struggling to get along with. 

Couple differences, hard to tolerate at the best of times, are laid bare as a couple argue about ‘how Christmas should be’, both for them, and their children.   “At Christmas, adults are dealing with the memory of Christmas past, when they too were the willing recipient of enchanting treats, seemingly conjured up from nowhere. This expectation of a 'perfect Christmas' can be indelibly stamped into our unconscious and all too often adults can regress back to that expectation at this time of year, carrying an unconscious, yet powerful hope for magic, and a yearning to be looked after that cannot be met. 

“Perversely, the more difficult the festive period may be, the more this imprint of something magical that can wipe out all ills and mend the deepest hurt can prevail. The idea that Christmas will make everything in a relationship or family alright again is a strong one to resist - cue the John Lewis Christmas advert - but when the holidays are over and we wake up to rediscover our difficulties have not evaporated, it can sometimes make things worse than ever.

“Just being aware of some of these issues can help couples to navigate the Christmas storm but we urge couples experiencing anxiety, worry and confusion about their relationship to seek expert support, to help avoid a crisis, and the chance that the relationship may break down, leading to emotional turmoil and potential mental health issues for the whole family.”

Last year, Tavistock Relationships, which has been providing therapy and counselling for couples and individuals for over 70 years, held 20,734 therapy sessions, helping thousands of people with their relationships.  

In 2016, Tavistock Relationships launched its Online Therapy Service to increase the accessibility of its clinical services to those living outside London.  From 2018 to 2019, the number of therapy services delivered online doubled to a total of 1,170 sessions. 

Kate adds: “Our online therapy service is a new way of delivering couple counselling via the internet, making our services available to people who are not able to access our central London-based centres. It’s just like face-to-face therapy except you and your partner communicate with your therapist via your personal computer.  As well as those living outside London, it might suit people with limited mobility or people who are frequently away travelling for their work.”

Tavistock Relationships’ therapy fees are charged according to capacity to pay, with no minimum fee, so that anyone can access Tavistock Relationships’ services, whatever their financial circumstances.

In addition to offering counselling and psychotherapy, Tavistock Relationships runs professional training programmes in couple psychotherapy ranging from introductory to doctorate level.

For more information about Tavistock Relationships services, visit or call 020 7380 8288.


For more press information contact:

  • Paula Scott, PR consultant T: 07932 740221, E: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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