Mouthpiece: Repairing rocky relationships

JANICE MAEDITERE once said: "Christmas is not so much about opening our presents as opening our hearts." Whilst for many this Christmas will have delivered both presents and the warmth of loved ones, for others it will have crystallised the nagging thought that all is not well in their relationship.

Relationships Scotland's counsellors and mediators will find their in-boxes flooded with crisis calls when they return to work after the holidays. The enforced time together over Christmas and New Year will have made many couples realise that their relationship is in trouble. Those who have already decided to separate may seek help to do so without harming their children in the process.

The start of the year also encourages reflection and many counsellors say it is fairly common for someone to tell their partner on Hogmanay that they want to end the relationship. For many people, a new year means a new start.

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But what is it that makes people snap at this time of year? The pre-Christmas expectation of "happy families" can highlight problems that have been kept long buried. Many decide that it is better to deal with their difficulties after Christmas, often for the sake of their children. Relationship problems or decisions to separate are rarely sudden or unexpected events.

Causes for domestic friction accumulate around Christmas, too. The strain of demanding children, prolonged time together, unwanted "duty" visits to and from difficult relatives and the imminent arrival of credit card bills all increase the stress. Adding alcohol to the mix creates an even more volatile and potentially violent situation.

But it doesn't always end in disaster: early communication and negotiation are often the first steps towards a solution and to mending what may seem irrevocably broken. Regardless of the outcome, together or apart, it really is good to talk.

Stuart Valentine is chief executive of Relationships Scotland. Counsellors and mediators are available all across Scotland.

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