How to avoid arguments when choosing your Christmas bubble

The government announced this week that families will be able to create a ‘bubble’ for their Christmas celebrations, with up to three households able to meet indoors between 23 and 27 December.

It’s a difficult situation, as you cannot change your Christmas bubble once you’ve picked it, and large families are going to have to choose between themselves who they’re going to spend the big day with.

Add to this, some people may also decide that it’s simply not worth risking catching coronavirus for the sake of one day, with vulnerable and elderly family members in particular needing to be considered.

The whole thing is ripe for arguments – and that’s before you’ve even watched the Christmas Day soaps and had one too many cavas.

Neil Wilkie, Relationship Expert, Psychotherapist, author of Reset and creator of online therapy platform The Relationship Paradigm has given us his top tips on how to navigate choosing a bubble without offending or fighting.

These could be the difference between a smooth festive celebration and a Christmas filled with Fairytale of New York-style slanging matches.

Choose who you really want to be with

This may seem like a simple tip, but you really need to drill down this year on who you actually want to see and who you’ve invited out of politeness in previous years.

Neil tells ‘This year you have a get out clause to avoid those that you don’t really like. But it can also complicate matters if you have a big family or you and your partner can’t both invite your families.

‘If so, ask your partner (and children if you have them) who they would like to spend time with. Maybe create three tiers; 1. Would love to see, 2. OK, 3. No! and see what overlap there is between you.’

You’re probably not going to 100% agree on these tiers (sounds very 2020 to us), so Neil recommends the following to come to a workable solution.

  • Remember this is about creating a happy occasion for everyone
  • There may not be a perfect solution
  • Take it in turns to talk through how you feel about having a person/household in your bubble at Christmas. Your partner should listen carefully, without interruptions and then express their feelings, while you listen
  • When you fully understand each other’s perspective, see if you can reach an agreement or compromise
  • If not, what can you do to break the stalemate?

Avoid pointless arguments

For some Christmas isn’t Christmas until you’ve had a family barney, but let’s save that aggro until you’re arguing over who gets to carve the turkey or why cousin Michael got an iPad and you got a pair of socks.

‘Understand that arguments can quickly escalate,’ says Neil.

‘This is an emotive topic. If each of you get activated, you move into pre-historic fight, flight or freeze mode. When this happens adrenaline will flood your body, heart rate rises, and the brain and hearing become less able to process. This means arguing is pointless as you won’t be heard.

‘To avoid things getting heated, agree ‘Pause’ signals; ideally a clear gesture or unusual word. When this is triggered, you will both pause the argument. You will go and do something else for at least 20 minutes and then come back and discuss the issue at a convenient time.’

You’re trying to work out how to spend a happy day, so your aims are the same. Try to remember that.

Act fast

Despite the fact there needs to be nuance to your conversations, Neil highlights that these can’t be rambling or you might miss out.

He says: ‘There may then be some complicated negotiation; if you want to spend Christmas with household A and B but A has already agreed to spend it with F and B is waiting to hear from D?

‘The sooner you can make the bids for your Christmas star team, the better the chances of success.’

Pull up the drawbridge

Know when to admit defeat.

‘If it was all gets too complicated and you’re too worried about offending people, discuss how could you make the best of Christmas with just your household,’ says Neil.

‘It is an opportunity to pull up the drawbridge and do what you want, free of entertaining others.’

This is also the case of if you’re too worried to have people round or go to someone else’s house amid the pandemic. No is a complete sentence, and people will understand that you aren’t comfortable mixing if you tell them straight.

Embrace Technology

Neil says: ‘Remember, you can create a virtual bubble as big as you want. Zooming has become a natural activity for many people in their Lockdown working world. It could be a great way of connecting with friends and family over Christmas, without having to worry about tidying the house, plying them with food and drinks.

‘You can also leave when you want as Wi-Fi signals can magically disappear!’

Rather than spending your whole day catching up with people you just want to say a quick Merry Christmas to, Neil recommends scheduling in times to connect with loved ones online.

He adds: ‘If it’s for a longer conversation, create a theme and a structure. For example, have a Master of ceremonies to organise it and have each person taking it in turns to answer specific questions such as; during Lockdown what you have Loved, Loathed, Lost, Learned and are Looking forward to.

‘You could also run longer sessions with a quiz or synchronised games such as Monopoly’ (although we say that’s just asking for a fight).

Embrace the positives

‘This is a great opportunity to create the Christmas that you really want,’ says Neil.

‘The pattern from the past may have been full of raised hopes and disappointments. View this Christmas as being new and different to the past.

‘Given the restrictions, what can you all do differently this year?’

We’ve had a year of turmoil, but the one thing that’s prevailed is our capacity to take joy in the little things and appreciate what we have. Rather than moping about the time we’ve lost, let’s work together to create quality time we’ll remember forever.

Neil’s exercise to visualise how you want to spend Christmas

  • Think through what the attributes of a perfect Christmas would be for you
  • Focus particularly on the feelings that you will be having
  • Then rate your last Christmas out of 10 for each of these attributes
  • Ask yourself what you would need this year to do to get to 10 on each of these
  • Get each of your bubble to do the same and see what is the same and what is similar
  • Co-create the perfect Christmas

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