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Are you dreaming of a perfect family Christmas like a version of the Waltons? But in reality, your worst nightmare will come true because there's a rift brewing liable to ruin Christmas. There's hope for your family yet!


All families have rifts - mine included. Show me a feud-free family that's never fallen out, and I’ll show you one that probably doesn't care much for each other. At this time of year, though, that's not much solace if you’re worried there’ll be nothing like good will to all in your household.


It's easy to believe everyone else’s family will have a fantastic time. But one survey found family rows were one of the top two seasonal worries, money being the other. It's not just we mere mortals facing a bleak Christmas as many celebrities do too. Recent reports suggest Kerry Katona, Angelina Jolie, top comedian Jimmy Carr and Kate Moss's shambolic boyfriend Pete Doherty won’t play happy families around the Christmas tree due to fall-outs with family members.


There are important insights specific to families explaining why they have damaging, longstanding rifts. Firstly, we’re terrible busybodies when it comes to family members assuming we know best and think we’ve carte blanch to bandy our opinions about. Of course, we know what's best for, e.g., our brother that can’t hold down a job or sister who chooses unsuitable men. We don’t bite our tongue as we would with friends. Interfering is the root of many disputes.

We also take families for granted and do things to them we wouldn't to others. Things like lending Cousin Keith money that's never paid back or Aunt Gill always taking advantage of our hospitality leave us fuming. We know they wouldn’t do it to friends.


Another insight worth remembering is we don't choose our family like we do friends. We choose friends because we get along, share the same interests, and want to do the same things. That doesn't hold true for family members meaning a host of different personalities at play in fall-outs making families a minefield of grudges, one-upmanship and rivalry.


The dizzy heights of family happiness portrayed by the Walton’s in reality are out of our reach. And face it, John-Joe and co. were a bit cringe making. Nevertheless you’ll want a modicum of peace on earth rather than WW3 shattering your family this Christmas.


Your Guide To Ending Those Family Feuds


What to do before the holidays -


v  Run the issue that's been festering past a disinterested third party. Try to see it from another’s point of view before you try to start to heal it. This can be a real eye-opener to help you move forward.


v  Bite the bullet and decide to make the first move. Come on, forget your pride and look forward to a happier Christmas!


v  Plan what you’re going to say. Run the specifics past someone whose judgement you trust. They’ll help pick up negative undercurrents you might not realise are there. Many an apology is laced with bitterness!


v  No one’s a 100% wrong so acknowledgement your part in the rift. Taking responsibility and showing you aren’t blaming the other person will move things forward much more quickly. It's a cliche but own up to being part of the problem and you can be part of the solution.


v  Give some advance warning (e.g. an email or note that you’d love to talk). Then ring when calm and unhurried ensuring you keep a tactful tone. A psychological trick to reach their subconscious is to have quiet Christmas music playing in the background when you ring.


v  Don’t expect it all to be hunky-dory straight away. Be patient with them.


v  If unsuccessful and they don't want to bury the hatchet, then agree to disagree and not to raise the issue over the Christmas period.


v  If you’re not part of the rift but want to help resolve it, without taking sides ask if there’s anything you can do to help.


v  Before any Christmas events select a family member to serve as "mediator" if it all goes wrong and the rift surfaces. This should be someone with no vested interest in the rift.


What to do when the family’s together -


  • Be considerate and watch your tongue. Do your best to avoid bringing up anything that might set the rift off.


  • Watch how much alcohol gets consumed. Alcohol fuels unhappy and angry feelings and is cited in the majority of arguments at Christmas.


  • Consider your table plan carefully. Seat family members who irritate each other apart.


  • Lead by example and keep things jolly. The more positive you are, the more positive the person you previously fallen out with will be.


  • Families get in bad habits reacting in a knee-jerk fashion to each other. You come to expect, for example, your fiery sister who falls in and out with family members will definitely do so over Christmas. Once you start expecting people to act a certain way you set up a vicious cycle. Try to eliminate such negative expectations from your thinking.


Ultimately you’re individuals. Start looking at each family member as a unique personality - appreciating their differences - will prevent future rows. Give everyone a turn to shine over the holidays. I wish you a happy family Christmas!


Published in the Express Newspaper



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I firmly believe that emotional eating to soothe difficult feelings is the culprit behind most of this failure. My book has a huge range of practical tips/strategies to help understand your emotions and manage your appetite. There are mini-quizes and real case studies.

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