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Couples therapist reveals the most common relationship problems over Christmas

While it may not be an ordinary Christmas this year, many across the UK are as usual planning to spend the festive season celebrating with their extended family members. 

Between December 23 and 28, three households in England will be able to meet for exclusive festive ‘bubbles’ without social distancing over the Christmas period. 

In Scotland the ‘strong recommendation’ is that people do not mix households over the five-day period, and instead socialise outdoors, while in Wales two households should come together to form an exclusive Christmas bubble. 

While Prime Minister Boris Johnson has issued a warning for people to be ‘extremely cautious’ over their actions, many in the UK will still be committing to plans to spend their Christmas’ with other extended family members. 

With this in mind, renowned couples therapist and expert advisor at Blueheart, Dr. Katherine Hertlein, has revealed the most common arguments couples have over Christmas – and how to overcome them without spoiling the festive season. 

Frequent rows include where to spend Christmas Day, splashing out too much on presents, and not being able to spend enough time with your significant other over the holiday.  

Hertlein also revealed what to do if you struggle to spend time with your partner’s family, including avoiding ranting to your loved ones and removing yourself from the situation if you feel a row brewing. 

Who to spend Christmas Day with 

Couples therapist Katherine Hertlein has revealed the most common arguments couples have over Christmas, and how to overcome them without spoiling the festive season. Stock image

If you and your partner aren’t planning on spending Christmas day with just each other, it can be difficult to decide whose family gets your time. 

Naturally, we associate the Christmas season with time spent with family and friends, meaning both of you will likely want to see ‘your’ loved ones. This year, with restrictions in place, tough decisions are more likely to crop up.

If you and your partner are arguing about with whom to spend Christmas, the easiest solution is to sit down and discuss why it’s important for each of you to see certain people. 

Try not to put words in their mouth, but instead listen properly to what’s important to your partner and why. This might help you prioritise.

To compromise, or avoid a repeat next year, think about a rotation system where you spend one Christmas with your partner’s family and the next with yours. 

You could also consider spending the actual day separately but then coming together for your own ‘couples Christmas’ a few days later. Taking the focus off the 25th can help you find a happy solution.

Compromise is essential in these types of situations but also try and empathise with each other and make sure you’re managing your own expectations.

Spending too much money at Christmas  

Financial worries are a common focal point for arguments over the Christmas period and this year has been financially tough for many. 

Many of us will want to give nice gifts to family members and show our appreciation, but it’s easy to overspend. 

To avoid fights over the finances, you must have an open conversation with your partner and budget before you start shopping.

Sit down with your partner and work out what you both can afford to contribute and how much you will spend on a gift for each person. Then shop with cash if you can. This will help you to avoid going over budget.

We won’t get enough alone time over Christmas 

I hate my partner’s family!  

There can be a lot of tension between families over Christmas. Suddenly people who haven’t seen each other in a while come together and not all get on. 

If you don’t get on with your partner’s family members but have plans to spend Christmas with them, then there are some simple steps you can take to ensure you avoid arguments ruining the festive day and that you don’t upset your partner.

If you feel an argument beginning to bubble, simply take some time out, go outside or take a quick walk to clear your head. Focus on the family members that you do get along with and engage with them. 

If an argument does break out, do not fall into the trap of engaging. Express that you don’t feel it’s the right time or place to discuss the matter and withdraw yourself from the situation.

There’s also the fact that sometimes, not getting on with your partner’s family can pose a problem in your relationship. If the scenario is that you and your partner’s family simply do not get on, do not let this come between you as a couple. Avoid ranting about your partner’s family to your partner. 

If they do something nice, then acknowledge it but otherwise, steer clear of speaking about them. Do not try and force your partner to take sides either, this will put your partner in a difficult position and cause a break down of your relationship. Your partner is in a difficult situation, and they do not want to feel like they have to pick sides between the people that they love.

If the matter is more serious, then re-consider whether spending Christmas with your partner’s family is a good idea. If you come to the conclusion that it’s not, then find time to explain to your partner why you think it’s best to avoid this situation over Christmas. 

Do not be accusatory because this will make your partner defensive. Avoid playing fact tennis and going into detail about who did what and when – this is about how you feel. It might be upsetting for your partner, but your wellbeing is important, for you and your relationship.  

Christmas is a really uplifting time of year but can also be one of the busiest; shopping for presents, sorting out plans, cooking, getting the house ready, and so much more. 

The best time of the year can quite easily be spoiled if you can’t spend quality time with your partner.

If you and your partner have conflicting schedules over Christmas, then you need to carve out a few days where you can to spend quality time together. 

Even if just one day, use it to reconnect, relax and unwind from your hectic schedules. 

Put your phones away into a drawer and try to avoid TV. This will encourage you to speak to each other, cuddle, and encourage intimacy. 

These moments can be lost when you’re busy, so it’s vital to plan in time to just ‘be’ with your partner.

We come from different religious backgrounds – how do we approach Christmas? 

When you and your partner come from different religious backgrounds, holidays can be a little more challenging, but it doesn’t mean it has to be a cause for conflict. 

In fact, interfaith partnerships can often be more exciting as you become more acquainted with your partner’s beliefs and values, which can actually bring you closer! 

To make it mutually respectful, talk to your partner about the traditions you enjoy and want to keep. 

Think about what’s particularly important to you and what you’re happy to not do.

Make sure you support celebrations of days important to them as well, so there isn’t an imbalance.

You could also use this time to create your own family traditions and make the celebration your own. 

We’ve become distant over the year, how can we strengthen our relationship?  

There’s no doubt that this year has been incredibly tough on our mental health and our relationships. 

If you feel like the stresses of this year have come between you and your partner, you’re not alone.

Christmas is a perfect time to reconnect with your partner if you feel like life has gotten in the way of quality time together. 

Sex is an incredibly important part of reconnecting with your partner, and the festive period presents the perfect opportunity to do this. 

The Christmas holidays will provide time for both you and your partner to re-establish a healthy sex life, away from the pressures of everyday life.

Organise to spend quality time together over the holidays and use it as an opportunity to start re-building a healthy sex life. 

It doesn’t have to be an extravagant date, just simply taking time to go out for dinner, or have a walk together, or spending an evening watching your favourite movie is enough to be able to bond with your partner, which in turn, will lead to better sex.


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