14 Ways To Avoid Stress - And The Breakdown Of A Relationship At Christmas
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PRE-CHRISTMAS 2008, THE FOLLOWING
POINTS MAY BE ADAPTED, AND ARE VALID AT ANY TIME OF THE
The effects on children when parents are separating are immense. They are quick to pick up on the cracks and strains that appear between warring parents, and it is the adults’ responsibility to protect them, as far as possible, from the consequences of relationship breakdown. Whatever the state of affairs between you and your spouse, you need to practice self-discipline in front of your children. Which, when you’re facing the possibility of coping with marriage breakdown, is not that easy.
DIVORCE AND YOUNG CHILDREN
Telling your younger children that mummies and daddies sometimes fall out just like their friends do at school may be the best way forward. They may not like it, but put in simple terms like that, this is something they will understand. And with the older ones, a straightforward statement from both of you to the effect that you’re trying to find ways to resolve your problems may be beneficial. But whatever you do, try to avoid out-and-out war in front of your offspring.
There are practical steps that can be taken to achieve this. And others which, with practice, may change your mindset from one of woundedness and anger, hurt and self-pity, to that of thankfulness and acceptance. It’s all a question of how determined you are to eliminate the stressful signs of relationship breakdown, whilst remaining honest about what’s happening.
HOW TO AVOID STRESS IN PRACTICAL WAYS
- Learn to say no to situations that may be stressful to your relationship. If you usually have your in-laws round for the day, or go to them, tell them, nicely, that this year you want to do things differently and spend time alone as a family.
- Have a simple Christmas in which you all appreciate that less is more. Financial pressures add to the conflict identified in my last article: How To Recognise The Signs Of Relationship Breakdown. Do you really need to spend the earth to enjoy Christmas? Make up your minds to cut down on the cost of gifts and the quantity of food, and find other ways to make the day special.
- Join forces with another family. Tell them you’re going to do things differently this year and, if the weather permits, you’d like to go for a long walk after lunch, and return to have tea round the fire.
- Switch off the TV, let your hair down, and play games with your family. Your children may grumble, to begin with, but seeing Dad act out a charade depicting Shrek will soon cause amusement.
- Cut down on the alcohol. Nothing is likely to fuel conflict more than an excess of booze.
CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK: CONSIDER THE EFFECTS OF FAMILY BREAKDOWN
- Prioritise work / family relationships. Are long working hours taking their toll on your family? Ask yourself why you work? Is it to provide for your family? Or is it for your own satisfaction? If the former, then ask yourself whether the income / standard of living you provide is bringing happiness to you and your family? Could you manage on less?
- Unemployed? Take on voluntary work helping the homeless, the elderly, or those in drugs rehab. Seeing others less fortunate than yourself may change your own perceptions.
- Count your blessings. Those whose childhood was spent post WW2 will remember the old adage with affection. People were materially less well-off; but, contentment, thankfulness, kindness and community spirit more than made up for what they lacked in other ways.
- Dare to think differently. If you’re coping with marriage breakdown, why wait for it to be over when, with a little ingenuity, you could do things differently? Downsize to the country. Buy a small-holding. Or a Bed & Breakfast business. Emigrate!
- Laugh! Laughing relaxes everyone. However miserable you may be feeling inside, it’s the best therapy around. Educate yourself to find the humour in every situation. Surround yourself with friends who laugh, and avoid those who moan.
- Learn to see beauty not ugliness. Being grumpy old women, or men behaving badly, has become the mantra of our era. Avoid TV programmes that bring out the worst in you and the rest of humanity. Teach yourself to appreciate beauty. Go to an art gallery. Read poetry. Look up to see the stunning effect of bare trees and sky. Look for the good in people. Bring to mind the things you once loved about your spouse.
- When bad thoughts crowd in, turf them out with positive ones. You can’t simply empty your mind of the hurtful things you and your spouse have said to one another. But you can refuse to give them houseroom by making positive thoughts take up residence. Let praise, not condemnation, be on your lips when it comes to your partner.
- Go to an Alpha meeting, And learn about the meaning of life with other like-minded people.
- Find a lively church and go together, as a family, on Christmas morning.
When Christmas is over, go to Relate or some other counselling service and try your best to make your marriage work. The effect on children when parents separate is more far-reaching than hitherto thought. As I said on the BBC Radio 5 Live debate, all relationships require work, commitment and dedication. Don’t sacrifice your family for want of trying.