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Have An Emotionally Intelligent Christmas – Surviving The Season With Your Relationships Intact

Written by: Gillian Jones-Williams, Senior Level Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Snow is falling (well maybe in the North) all around, children playing (whining and demanding) having fun, it’s the season of love and understanding (or breaking up, making your children redundant or having a nervous breakdown), depending on how you approach it and how you use your Emotional Intelligence to navigate the festive period.

Woman with shopping bags smiling emotionally at a Christmas fair.

Every year the world still peddles perfection draped in fairy lights but the portrayal of the “Hallmark Christmas”– a beautiful family in matching pyjamas smiling happily around the tree, with a softly glowing fire, and a perfect turkey dinner served to beaming relatives is an unrealistic fantasy. However, it is still the dream we chase, desperately praying that this year no-one will row, drink themselves into oblivion or stomp off and lock themselves into their room.

The reverse of this pipe dream is more often true, in fact, studies have shown that separations and divorces peak after significant holidays. This is often the build up of a whole year’s issues that people have avoided addressing, which then rise to the surface when people spend lengthy and enforced periods with each other. Family rifts can be exacerbated rather than healed during the holidays. When normal routines are disrupted that can cause people to feel unsettled. And this can cause other arguments to erupt. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Below are some of our top tips for having the best holiday ever, on your terms:

Manage Expectations

Think about what you really want to do and if you want to break with existing traditions and create new traditions together then do it! Maybe you fancy some wild water swimming and a BBQ on the beach in Cornwall, so be proactive – think of all the things that could impact your enjoyment of Christmas and start early to manage them. If someone takes for granted that you will always spend a certain amount of time with them, kindly but assertively let them know early what your plans are. Give them alternatives and be very factual – i.e., tell them “This year we want to have Christmas day alone or with the children” and suggest that maybe you do Christmas Day on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day with them. Schedule longer catch ups within a couple of weeks afterwards – let’s face it nothing interesting happens in January. If the other person is difficult or sulky about it remember that is their behaviour and their issue and not yours.

Re-establish boundaries

If you feel that there is someone who always oversteps the line at Christmas, take some time to speak to them beforehand and have a future focused conversation about what you would like to happen and how you would like to be together. Avoid personal attacks or bringing up what has happened in the past and make it very future focused, objective, and pleasant. Make it clear that if they don’t want to agree to making it different, you will have Christmas on your own terms. It doesn’t need an argument, just a clear consistent and assertive statement of what is important, what you want to happen and what you plan to do.

Manage family situations

Think of people with good intent. For many people the mindset approach to Christmas starts very soon after the previous year’s boxing day. We start to programme our minds to remember the arguments, the digs, the criticism and almost to prepare our mindset negatively for the next Christmas. The way that we programme our brain and process information i.e., the way that we think, dictates our state which is how we feel and this encourages how we behave, so if we constantly think about how awful our experience was, how much we dislike people and how we are dreading next year we are creating a massive self-fulfilling prophecy.

As you approach Christmas, decide, and choose whether you want to heal relationships, or whether you just want to be able to be civil on the day, so that you can consider your strategy. However, don’t choose to do the healing on the day. Family members can be triggering – when we are around people who have potentially hurt us in the past it can heighten our senses and cause us to have an emotional reaction and behave in ways that we might later regret. Remember that you can always choose your behaviour, which means that if you choose the right behaviour, you will always remain in control. Finding ways of accepting others and their differences and learning to appreciate and enjoy the positive qualities can make the environment far more relaxed. Letting go of the need to control or change family members is a blessed relief. Be realistic about what you expect from your family members.

Consider in advance how, if things don’t work out, you will make a strategic exit – if things are getting emotional, how far are you prepared to go, and if you want to leave how will you do it? Considering what you will say in advance can make you feel more in control of your behaviour.

Maintaining your relationships

Often one side of a partnership feels put upon at Christmas. Maybe that is because one person is idealistic about what a perfect day looks like and the other doesn’t really subscribe to an ‘overdone’ event. Perhaps you love every moment of it and want the decorations up from the end of November and the other person would prefer for them to go up on Christmas Eve and come down on the day after Boxing Day! Maybe one side goes overboard on presents and the other feels it should be more about just having fun time together. Neither of you are wrong or right but having a conversation and understanding why the other person feels like that goes a long way to reaching a compromise. Have a conversation to ask them what their perfect Christmas would be like – if they say sleeping a lot and watching TV how can you build that in? What are they and you prepared to compromise on.

Often, people focus too much on the materialistic side of Christmas – maybe it is time to re-baseline it and talk to each other about what is really important. Having time to spend with the people you love, long walks and reconnecting is quite precious in this busy world. Ensure that the whole of Christmas is not just overloaded with family activities – try and save some special time for you and your partner on your own.

Saying ‘No’

Why do we find it so difficult to say ‘no’? Perhaps it is because we think we will upset people or they will take things personally. But if you say ‘yes’ to everything you will end up exhausted and resentful. So, think about, what is your criteria for saying ‘yes’ to something – what is important to you, where do you want to spend your time, what energises you, what drains you, are there special people you want to spend time with as you may not get so many opportunities in the future? How can you prioritise certain events and then tactfully say ‘no’ to others – remember you are refusing the request and not the person. If they take your refusal personally that is their issue and not yours.

Looking after your wellbeing

We often look forward to the holiday and then end up feeling even more exhausted from all the entertaining. Ensure you build in some ‘you’ time – particularly if you are the cook and organiser in the family. It can take a lot of effort to prep, cook and serve the Christmas lunch. Sit down in advance with other people and discuss what each party will bring and what they will do to help. Often when people say, “shall I bring something” our tendency is to say, ‘no, it’s fine’. But we often don’t feel that it is ‘fine’ inside and then we internally resent other people because we have cast ourselves into the role of the martyr. But it doesn’t have to be that way – Christmas shouldn’t be about spending the whole time sweating over the stove, staring at the kitchen tiles, and feeling permanently exhausted.

Make the pledge this year to really make the holiday season one which you fully enjoy. Lose the guilt, abandon perfectionism, and focus on what is important to you. Life is too short to spend it pleasing everyone else, so let go a bit, ask for help and enjoy doing things with people who energise you, instead of thinking you have to go it alone.

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Gillian Jones-Williams, Senior Level Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Gillian is Managing Director of Emerge Development Consultancy, which she founded 25 years ago. She is a master executive coach working with many CEOs and managing Directors globally. She is also an international speaker and in 2020, was named by f: Entrepreneur as one of the leading UK Female Entrepreneurs in the I also campaign.

Gillian founded the RISE Women’s Development Programme, which is delivered both in the UK and the Middle East, and Saudi and is her absolute passion. Emerge deliver coaching for women at all stages of their life and career, including maternity and menopause.

She is also the co-author of How to Create a Coaching Culture, 50 Top Tools for Coaching, and the author of Locked Down but Not Out, which is a diary of the first 3 months of the pandemic to raise money for the bereaved families of the NHS workers who died during COVID-19.



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