Picture this: you're driving to see family for Christmas. Sparkly nail polish - check. Rudolf 'flashing nose' earrings on - check. Cheesy Christmas songs on the radio - check. Enormous tub of chocolates - check.
The boot is full of carefully chosen and beautifully wrapped presents and you smile in anticipation of your loved ones opening them and being delighted. Despite the mucky weather and traffic jams you feel happy, and at peace with the world.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, it could be pointed out that you're late. Or you could be greeted by 'hello thunder thighs, still haven't lost that puppy fat then', or 'these presents are beautifully wrapped, must have cost a fortune - they're paying you too much' or 'have you found a man yet?' or 'still no husband?' or 'still no kids?' or 'when are you getting a proper job?' etc etc etc.
Great. You'd got so swept up in the excitement of Christmas you'd forgotten that your family is real and not some Disney world family!
If your mum is critical, your dad grumpy, your sister is in constant competition with you and your aunt is a casual racist etc, they won't be changing for Christmas!
Family politics are complicated, and there is always the potential for squabbles and arguments, so how can you minimize the possibility?
Now is not the time to clear the air about a squabble or grievance. Hold on to it, and discuss it at another time.
Some subjects are petrol, and some people are sparks. Avoid mixing them at all costs, because these are the wrong sort of fireworks to be having at Christmas!
Okay, so your uncles homophobia makes you squirm, but is today the day to debate the subject? You won't change his views, and he won't change yours - it's an oil and water, no win situation.
I know, easier said than done, right? But here are 3 simple ways to take your stress down a notch and stay in control:
Change the subject to something more neutral.
Or make a joke of it, and laugh. Humour is a great way to dodge a tricky subject and lighten the mood.
Okay, you tried to stay calm, you really did but it all ended up in a very heated debate. Now you feel awful - angry but also upset that this happened at Christmas.
Look, don't beat yourself up about it, you're only human and these things happen! This isn't the first argument at Christmas and it won't be the last.
Walk away. Space and time will help you to calm down and regain control.
Had an argument at #Christmas? Don't beat yourself up about it, you're only human
If you don't want a bad atmosphere to spoil Christmas for everyone, you're going to have to find a way to move on.
You may want to apologize if you said something you now regret. Just do it, and get it over with.
You may not be in the slightest bit sorry for what you said, so pick your words.
Although 'I'm sorry you are a bigoted, chauvinistic prick' includes the word sorry, it's not going to help!
You don't have to apologize, just find a way to move forward. 'We have very different views on this, so let's agree to disagree - can I get you a drink/mince pie?'
Again, humour works really well. Find the funny side.
Christmas is about spending time with real people and that includes family issues, historic resentments, sibling rivalry, unrealistically high expectations and family politics.
Coupled with enforced time together in close company and possibly a liberal sprinkling of alcohol, it's hardly surprising that things get heated from time to time.
But despite everything, these people are your family and you love them. Enjoy them. One day, you might miss the annual Christmas family fireworks.
Share this with your friends and help them at Christmas!
And if you need some help making sense of family politics, don't struggle on alone, contact me.
Jane Travis is a qualified and experienced counsellor and clinical supervisor in the Lincoln area. She has been working at Reflections Counselling Lincoln since 2005. She also helps other counsellors and therapists market and grow their private practices at JaneTravis.co.uk.
FREE Cheatsheet 'How To Say No'.