Anxiety, Articles by Alex Ryder, Family counselling, Relationships

Worried about Christmas and holiday conflict?

Whilst Sydney (and Australia for that matter) is a beautiful place to be during Summer, Christmas and the holiday season can be a challenging time for

The feeling of needing to conform to your family’s expectations during the Christmas break can cause stress within your relationship.

It can, however, with a few simple relationship tips, be a chance to strengthen your relationship with appropriate boundaries, manage your family’s expectations,
and establish some rituals that will revitalise your relationship.

The most common relationship challenges that couples report to me during the holiday period, arise for three reasons:

  1. Unmet expectations – usually because the couple have not discussed their expectations
  1. Boundaries are not agreed upon or maintained between the couple and extended family
  1. One or both people in the relationship have not been clear or honest about their limits

Here are a few things you CAN do to have an enjoyable Christmas and holiday period.


Align your expectations – Discuss with your partner what your needs are. What are your energy levels coming into the holiday season? Who would you like to spend time with? Discuss the needs of your children, and discuss the expectations of your extended families and notice if they conflict with the needs of your relationship.

Establish and maintain boundaries – It is a crucial part of establishing a strong relationship to recognise the new family that you have created by you being with your partner. If you are in a long-term relationship, and you want it to be successful, it is important that you recognise that your primary family is now the one you have established with your partner. That means you will need to put the needs of your relationship ahead of the needs of your extended family.

Spend time with the right people – Schedule time with people that strengthen you, and energise or rejuvenate your relationship. Minimise time with those that bring you down, or question your relationship. You may still decide to visit those people, but have a plan to leave early. This is particularly important if you or your partner is not completely accepted into either of your families.

Schedule rest – You have permission to do less. You are a better person to yourself, your partner and your family when you are rested. If you decide you do have to face a conversation with a difficult relative, you will be in much better shape if you have been able to recoup beforehand.

Manage your response to family members – family tension and relationship conflict often occurs in patterns. Think about what happened last year and learn from it. Step away from a family member that pushes your buttons. Or perhaps you feel the need to behave in a certain way around certain people, or revert to childhood behaviour that that isn’t necessary any more. It is okay to experiment with changing your ‘role’ in those relationships. Perhaps that might involve more assertiveness, empathy, or a softer approach.

Steer clear of other people’s conflict – people in conflict tend to try to recruit supporters, or at the very minimum find a sympathetic
ear. You can be supportive to family members without buying into their story about someone else.

Plan your alcohol consumption – aside from celebrating, many of us turn to alcohol to reduce stress and tension, which may be present at family get togethers. However, it’s often when we’ve had too much alcohol that conflicts arise in families. If it’s likely that will occur, have a plan to leave before it happens, or regulate your own consumption to ensure you still able to respond appropriately, rather than reacting.

Deal with conflict in advance – if there is something that needs resolving, try to do it before the added stress and tension of a Christmas or holiday get together. A good counsellor can help with this. If that can’t be achieved, agree a strategy with your partner for dealing with that family member if and when the conflict arises. For example, you might ask your partner to help you step out of a conversation if it is obvious you are becoming frustrated.

With these few simple relationship tips Christmas and the holiday period can be a chance to strengthen your relationship with appropriate boundaries, manage your family’s expectations, and establish some rituals that will revitalise your relationship.

About Alex

Alex is an accessible and compassionate therapist.  His clients appreciate that Alex listens with the intention of genuinely understanding them.  He’s lovely with adolescents, who seem to warm to him

immediately, and he creates a space in sessions for any or all participants to have their say and feel heard.

Alex’s particular strengths are in the area of working with couples and he has extensive experience and training in this area.  He is both Gottman and Systemically trained and draws on practical ideas that clients can immediately make use of to enhance their relationships.

Alex comes to Sydney Couple and Family Therapy Specialists from backgrounds as a Lifeline Crisis Line Counsellor and Trainer and Therapist at the highly-respected Jansen Newman Institute.  He has supported individuals and couples through trauma, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and adolescent struggles.

Alex has helped many people through intensely frightening and painful life events – and to a place where they have the skills and confidence to carry themselves forward.

Alex is married with a young family and therefore easily relates to the stress and struggles that many couples and young families face today.

“It takes a lot of courage to share a moment of crisis with someone you don’t yet know.  Even more so, to entrust your intimate relationship over to them.

I have been in the fortunate position to be trusted with that responsibility many times and have helped people – through their own bravery, honesty and effort – to transcend their suffering and improve their key relationships.”

Alex also runs the pre-marriage counselling course at the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists

Qualifications and Professional Membership

Alex holds a Masters of Counselling and Psychotherapy from Jansen Newman Institute Sydney, and a Bachelor degree from the University of Sydney.  Alex also holds a Gottman training certificate.

He is a member of the Australian Association of Family Therapy, the Counsellors and Psychotherapist Association of Australia, and the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia.

Why see a Couples Counselor?

Are you wondering if couples counselling is for you? In this interview Alex Ryder answers common questions we hear from people who want to understand more about this process.

And remember, if you are a new client you can book a free 15 minute telephone session with Alex.

“We really like your approach. The other couples counsellor we saw left us stuck in negativity.  Right from the start we felt hopeful with you.  Your positive approach helped us out of the slump, so we could address the real issues.” – Murry (36) married to Tasha (39); One Child (3) – Clients who saw Alex Ryder for Relationship counselling.

“I’ve wanted to refer you to so many people.  Obviously I haven’t given the circumstances, but we are huge fans and are so grateful for your help.” – Tom (49) married to Sarah (43). Two children; 15 & 13 – Clients who saw Alex Ryder for Relationship counselling following an affair.

“I think we told you in our first session that you were the last couples therapist we were going to try. Everything was on the line.  So thank you for… well everything.” – James (55) married to Philippa (53) – Clients who saw Alex Ryder for Relationship Counselling

If you feel as though you could benefit from talking these types of issues through with a Therapist please contact  The Sydney Couple and Family Specialists on 02 8968 9397 or email

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