Published in Blog by Bridget Wilkins on November 13th 2023
Approach Christmas as a crack team of two at the top of the tree, advises therapist Bridget Wilkins, and your relationship will be strengthened by the demands of the festive season.
Christmas is a complicated time for couples. It’s easy to lose one another when you are already giving so much to everyone else. Inevitably, the strain can be overwhelming, and enquiries about couples therapy soar in January.
Partners are pulled in different directions, trying to appease conflicting demands from families and friends. Expectations are high, visitors are imminent, children need entertaining, and work is often on a Christmas deadline.
During seasonal get-togethers we are thrust out of our routines and into old family and friendship groups with little time for transition. Sometimes this means you might even travel ‘back in time’ – to a role you inhabited before your partner arrived on the scene, or to a family or childhood that was less rosy than those depicted on TV. You and your partner may react to all this differently. For one of you, Christmas may need to be ‘perfect’ to make up for early experiences; for the other, Christmas may need to be a time to disconnect and self-soothe: with neither understanding the shared anxiety beneath these actions.
For one of you, Christmas may need to be ‘perfect’ to make up for early experiences; for the other, Christmas may need to be a time to disconnect and self-soothe: with neither understanding the shared anxiety beneath these actions.
When this happens year after year, we are so primed for stress that it can become inevitable. But it is possible to anticipate and approach the Christmas challenge in a way that will strengthen your bond as a couple, not break it. Put your relationship first.
Picture yourselves at the top of a priority pyramid or, as it’s seasonal, at the top of the Christmas tree. Your ‘couple’ is positioned at the very top. One layer down are your children or close family members. After this are layers of more distant family or friends – however you wish to arrange your close circle or community. From this position of strength, you are in a better place to look after the needs of others.
The couple at the top need to consider themselves a core team of two, approaching Christmas as if it were a cheerful ‘tour of duties’. This team of two cannot be divided by invasive in-laws or demanding children. It will not use the other as a ‘stress bin’ for Christmas dislikes or poor remembrances of Christmas’s past.
So, check in regularly with each other, vocalise your support for one another and catch each other’s eye in a group or across a crowded room to acknowledge you are there for them.
Instead, this team of two has each other’s back. They are united by a shared goal: to make it easier this year. So, check in regularly with each other, vocalise your support for one another and catch each other’s eye in a group or across a crowded room to acknowledge you are there for them. Intervene when your partner is trapped in a long-winded conversation with a neighbour or beneath a scrambling toddler. In doing so, those on the lower rungs of the tree who jostle for your space and attention know, implicitly, that they are dealing with a unit, a strong couple, and one they cannot divide or rule.
Imagine, throughout the season, that you are joined together by an invisible, stretchy Christmas ribbon. If you can maintain this supportive space together, it will nourish you both far more than any Christmas dinner.
If you are struggling to be a team right now, give yourself the gift of couples therapy this Christmas by booking an appointment, either online or in person.