Going home for Christmas? 10 expert tips for getting on with everyone and avoiding family tension

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How to avoid family arguments: Two women at home for Christmas
(Image credit: Getty Images)

News flash: it's three days until Christmas, which might be why you're Googling how to avoid family arguments. Sure, December is full of festive cheer, but it can also be an incredibly taxing month that brings out the worst in people.

Not only that, but returning to your childhood home for an extended period of time if you are doing that can trigger a mixture of emotions. For the majority, it'll likely be the longest amount of time you've spent at home this year - which, you're likely looking forward to, but might feel daunted about, too. 

According to stats from YouGov, over two in five Brits (40%) report feeling stressed during the festive season, with one in four admitting to symptoms of depression or symptoms of anxiety. But know this: you're not alone, and there is mental health help out there. Like? Educating yourself on how to deal with family arguments and difficult situations (read: your uncle who's a Trump fan and doesn't believe in global warming).

It's worth remembering that while your family might be frustrating, many don't get to spend Christmas with their loved ones, so it's also important to practice gratitude and goodwill.

So with that in mind - keep scrolling for an expert-led guide on how to avoid family arguments this Christmas, plus top tips on dealing with stress and anxiety. 

How to avoid family arguments: 10 tips

1. Try and see the funny side

Easier said than done, but heading home having vowed to make light of difficult situations will certainly set you in good stead, share our experts.

"Every family has its quirks, and everyone can get wound up by the tiniest annoyance when it comes to their relatives," shares relationship psychologist Mairead Molloy. "It's important to remember that there's usually a funny side to your family's behaviour, whether it's an eccentricity, a cry for attention or someone playing the martyr."

Try this: Her advice? Laugh it off, where you can. "We all have our faults, but as long as we recognise this and try to keep smiling, Christmas needn't be ruined."

2. Drink less

Most people love indulging in a drink or two come Christmas time, but pacing yourself is key to doing or saying things you might regret, she shares. 

"Don't overdo it," advises Molloy. "If there's one thing that's guaranteed to make tensions worse, it's a careless word or gesture brought about by having one too many."

Try this: Know your limits and stop drinking before you reach the point of no return. Mindful drinking might come in handy - a surefire way to boost both your physical and mental health.

3. Avoid board games

While a game of Scrabble or Monopoly sounds like a harmless idea at first, let's be realistic: you're likely the most competitive around your family, which might be a reason to swerve the board games this year.

"Games can quickly create competitiveness and bring hidden tensions to the boil," continues Molloy. "If you do decide to play, make sure everyone is aware of the rules and don't get upset if someone decides to cheat - in the grand scheme of things, it's not the end of the world."

Try this: Politely decline the offer of a board game or suggest something less competitive, like a Christmas movie or arts and crafts, instead.

4. Be prepared

This one's important. If you know there are certain family members who have different world or political views to your own, go in mentally prepared not to engage.

"Being aware that certain family members will rub you up the wrong way means you're halfway to not caring," explains the expert. "Don't kid yourself into thinking that everything will go well if there's usually tension, but things will wash over you more easily this way than if you kid yourself that everything will run smoothly."

Try this: Take some time to work through what exact tensions may arise and plan in your head how you might calmly respond to them without engaging or inflating the situation. It's key to be mindful of catastrophising, but also remember the age-old saying - fail to prepare, prepare to fail. You'll thank us later.

5. Be helpful

Christmas, at its core, is about peace, love, and joy, reuniting with family, and giving thanks for the past year. Try and be as helpful and considerate as possible to whoever is hosting this Christmas, as they'll likely have gone to a big effort to host you and make you comfortable.

"It's all about being considerate," Molloy stresses. "Everyone wants to enjoy the day, so make sure that no one is left to do all the chores or chained to the cooker."

Try this: Make sure the whole family has a designated role or job to do come the big day so that the day runs more smoothly and stress levels are kept at a low, the expert advises.

6. Don't fight over the remote

Sounds like it wouldn't happen, but trust us on this one - it does.

"Everyone will have a Christmas special they're dying to watch. Try to calm any heated arguments by reminding yourself and the rest of your family that we live in 2022, which means no one needs to miss their favourite show," shares the expert. 

Try this: Compromise by recording your favourite show and watching it on catch-up later.

7. Take an interest

Hands up if you think you know your family and therefore have little left to find out about them?

That's where you might be wrong, shares Dr Tom Stevens, consultant psychologist at London Bridge Hospital. "Becoming a little more curious and making an effort to find out things you didn't know about them might help you see them in a different light," he stresses.

Try this: Engage with your family members' questions and take a genuine interest in what they've been up to. The effort won't go unnoticed.

8. Try to relax

Again, an obvious one, but this is key to you having an enjoyable break. Relaxing might look like enjoying the benefits of running or meditation, yoga poses or breathwork training. Or, it might look like a long lie-in and reading your book in bed. 

"Don't forget to take some time for yourself away from your family," advises Dr Stevens. "Christmas is about relaxing and doing things that will keep you calm, from taking a hot bath to doing some yoga, can help keep tensions at bay."

Try this: As a Health Editor, I'm a big fan of lacing up and enjoying daily runs over the Christmas break. It's my "me" time and clears my head. Sure, getting out in the cold might not seem that appealing, but if you wrap up warm (and are anything like me), you'll find it invigorating. Fun fact: you only need to run for ten minutes or so to boost your mood. Why not give it a go? 

9. Remember it's not a contest

This one's for you if you find yourself becoming competitive or comparing yourself to other family members when going home for Christmas.

Try this: If you find yourself getting competitive with your family members, try reframing your negative mindset, advises clinical psychotherapist Terri Bodell. "It's not about point scoring," she shares. "You'll find this stops a lot of the back-biting.'

10. Change things up

And finally, remember that a change in routine can actually be good for your mental health. "Christmas day with your family usually follows the same old patterns, so why not try to change the routine this year and mix things up a little?," recommends Bodell. 

Try this: Unplug the TV and go for a walk together. "Just getting out into the fresh air will help everyone return in a much better mood," she shares. 

Merry Christmas, all - remember to enjoy it. 

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and is a stickler for a strong stat, too, seeing over nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.