How to spend Christmas with/without your partner

Your cheat-sheet to having a chill festive season

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photo: Heartstopper
Hero image in post
photo: Heartstopper

Your cheat-sheet to having a chill festive season

By Rhys Thomas13 Dec 2023
8 mins read time
8 mins read time

Christmas might be the most wonderful time of the year in some ways, but it sure isn’t in other ways. Dealing with a relationship suddenly going long distance (and all the separation anxiety that can come with that), dealing with your family, dealing with their family, bumping into ex-partners from home that you’d really really rather avoid, and having basically no personal space are all instances that carry the vibes of snow that has turned into slush.

Nobody likes slush. And we’re here to ensure that any wet and gross residue is melted and evaporated firmly off your path this festive season - at least, the path of navigating your relationships. We can’t promise we’re doing much to the roads. We’ve done that by speaking to a bunch of experts to cover and provide guidance for all instances, situations, dynamics and vibes. Let’s get into it.

Long distance

It’s sad having to say goodbye to someone, missing their general presence, knowing they’re ages away and on a different schedule. Texting just doesn’t quite hit the same, does it. But there are ways to ease the blow, much of them have to do with setting out a sense of what the time apart will look like, so that you go into it with expectations that are more likely to be met. Dr Becky Spelman, Psychologist and Founder at the Private Therapy Clinic advises you “discuss your expectations, including how often you'll communicate. From there, it’s good to discuss and find new, fun ways to connect. This could be scheduling video calls for shared activities or sending thoughtful festive gifts to each other.”

International dating and relationship coach Sami Wunder stresses that “communication is the North Star”, adding that by sharing “expectations, dreams, and any potential bumps in the holiday road” we can effectively “create a relationship holiday roadmap – the GPS for a smooth journey.” Talking properly and in detail, is going to allow us to just see the entire picture of the relationship clearly, it gives us access to our thoughts and theirs, and provides them with the same. Often, it’s by keeping worries to ourselves that issues arise.

When it comes to having fun and finding ways to continue to have quality time and experiences without being in the same room, Hope Flynn, founder of FeedMeFemale, adds that these days it’s actually pretty easy to share experiences remotely (and we are sort of primed for it thanks to that pandemic thing) “pressing play on the same holiday movie at the same time and text each other your thoughts as if you were sitting next to each other, for example” she says. This could extend to other forms of culture, an album, a book; perhaps you can stalk other people’s stories to see who has the nicest home while on loudspeaker to one another… romantic!

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety within the context of relationships is “exaggerated angst about the actual or perceived separation from an attachment figure” and can “lead to feelings of worry, fear, or concern that you’ll be abandoned by someone you’re attached to” according to Psych Central. Of course, this can affect our general wellbeing, but it can also impact our relationships as it puts pressure on the partner, and can also lead to issues with codependency. Dr Spelman again says that discussing expectations is very important, but also that if you are likely to get anxious, you need to “prioritise understanding, trust, and emotional support” and that it can help to “plan things together for the future”.

Flynn echoes this, saying that if you “make a plan to meet after the Christmas holidays to have something to look forward to together” it can “help manage the separation anxiety you may feel while being away from one another.” When it comes to setting expectations, it’s good to be mindful that the Christmas holidays are a busy time, and it’s always best “to set realistic expectations on how frequently you can communicate and also how long you’ll be spending time apart”, Flynn says. Anxiety can take a lot of work to manage, but communicating honestly about it with a partner is a vital step and can help a lot. It might be vulnerable, but it’s very much worthwhile.

Bumping into exes

AKA the biggest vibe ruiner in the world – real Grinch hours that’ll have you walking out of the pub looking like Scrooge. Dr Spelman says if you’re able to, “set clear boundaries. These can involve potential interactions, and spaces you may want to keep as yours and not theirs.” She adds that it’s best to “try to have a respectful and civil attitude, avoiding any confrontation or reliving past issues”. Of course, sometimes we don’t want to bump into our ex because we miss them or will feel upset. Wunder also mentions boundaries, adding that ‘If you miss your ex during the holidays, you're human. Just remember they are your ex for a reason.”

Flynn says that it’s also good to have an exit plan, should you find yourself in close proximity to them and not wanting to deal with it. “If things become too uncomfortable, having a cute little escape route can give you the sense of control you might need in any tricky situ.” She says. Ideally, in the good faith of Christmas (and also just being a nice person) it’s good to remember to have empathy for your ex’s situation, and to keep things polite and civilised, even if you decide to leave right after.

Dealing with family

Family. Unlike exes, you can’t choose them – and blocking them or leaving the environment are often very difficult, last resorts. Dr Watts and Dr Brown, clinical psychologists at Turning Tides Psychology point out that “despite being bombarded with advertising showing us how to have the perfect Christmas with our friends and family at this time of year, the reality is that many of us don’t have perfect relationships with our families.” If this is relatable, just remember that you’re not alone and that soon it’ll be January and you can go back to doing your thing. Dr Watts and Dr Brown point out that “Even if we get on very well with those people [within the typical amount of time we spend with them], we can start to feel socially burnt out.”

In order to keep your Christmas spirit, set yourself internal boundaries. For instance, “if spending a whole day with family is going to be too stressful, plan to spend just a couple of hours with them and arrange things that you want to do for the rest of the day.” Dr watts and Dr Brown add.

Wunder offers a few ideas of how to spend the time without them in a way that doesn’t look like you’re trying to fob them off. “Have a solo walk or indulge in a bubble bath. If you want to spend time alone scrolling on Instagram, do that.” Wunder also reminds that “It's your holiday too after all.”

Dealing with their family

For those of you spending time with your partner’s family,, often the nerves are around making sure you make a good impression, and of course that you’re comfortable. Dr Spelman says that “being open and friendly, asking questions, and engaging in conversations, is the best way to show genuine interest in getting to know them” which of course, will usually be appreciated very much. Wunder points out that you can basically rehearse and study up before you get there with your partner, and that in doing so you should “share your excitement and concerns with your partner” so that they have a sense of what you might find difficult, and can reassure you or help you as needed.

Of course, you’ll want to avoid topics that could spark overly heated debate – in cases where their family aren’t really the debating type at all, just avoid these conversations altogether. The best bet, especially if you’re not close to the family, is to keep things really light and general, but be sure to participate.

You might not like their specific Christmas tradition of playing charades during the Royal Variety Show ad-breaks but only being able to act out people you have spotted in the audience of the show, but you need to muck in, for them. It shows you care and it’ll help them to like you. You also don’t need to tell your partner you don’t enjoy certain things, they’ll already know. Flynn says that you should also “Show gratitude.” A little Christmas/thank you card goes a long way. Wunder echoes this idea, “Your partner’s parent/s went the extra mile to make you feel at home. Thank them sincerely. Gratitude is the magic dust that makes the holiday season brighter”. Ultimately, you’re going to want to kill the situation with kindness. Have you ever worked in retail? It’ll help.

The holiday season is always a chaotic mess full of uncertainties and things we can’t control. From the weather to how stable our relationships will be, but snow storms pass, and it’ll likely all be okay.