Co-parenting Christmas – how to deal with the holidays if you’re separated

Mother and daughter opening Christmas presents

If you’ve recently gone through a divorce or a separation, Christmas can be a stressful time of year.

What was once a chance to spend quality time with the family can now serve as a reminder about how much things have changed – and can bring up some complicated emotions for you, your ex-partner and your children.

Whether you’re spending time with the children this Christmas, spending it alone, or a combination of both, it’s entirely normal to feel a little overwhelmed or upset.

Spending it with the children

Your first family Christmas following a separation or divorce might feel a little strange. Familiar rituals will take on a different feel, and it may take a little time before you’re able to settle into things.

For now, all you can try to do is make things as normal as possible. Try to help your children feel that you’re going to learn to adjust together. It’s worth remembering that, in years to come, things will be much easier.

You may find the following tips helpful.

  • If you’ve made plans with your ex, try your best to stick to them. Being able to negotiate effectively together is a big part of learning to parent apart. It’s important everybody demonstrates their commitment to making the new situation work.
  • Present a united front. If you do mention your ex-partner, describe things in a way that shows you’re on the same team. Likewise, when picking up or dropping off the kids, be civil. Scoring points off each other won’t make the situation better – and will likely make the children feel they’re being put in the middle.
  • Keep rules that the children are used to. It’s important they’re held to a consistent set of expectations regardless of who’s looking after them.
  • If your children have questions, be honest – within reason. You need to be able to talk with them about what’s happening, but no child needs to know intimate details about their parent’s separation.
  • Be positive. You’re creating new family rituals and routines that you can enjoy together for years to come.
  • Learn to forgive yourself. You may not get things right straight away.

Getting by on your own

Equally, spending time apart from the children over the holidays can make you feel lonely, isolated or even angry.

You may find yourself mourning the family situation that you used to have or resenting the fact that it’s your ex who is with the kids and not you.

What’s important is you take care of yourself and take the time to process how you’re feeling.

  • Look after yourself. Eat, rest and sleep well when you can.
  • Talk about your feelings. Confiding in friends, family or people trained to listen, such as Samaritans, can help you feel less alone on Christmas Day.
  • Appreciate the good memories. It’s OK to feel sad when a song comes on the radio, but remember the happy times too.
  • Cry if you need to. This is part of coming to terms with your loss.
  • Consider avoiding alcohol. Christmas is the season of merriment, but drinking can sometimes make things worse, especially if you’re already feeling upset.
  • Remember: just because you’re spending Christmas alone this year doesn’t mean you will be next year. Your relationship with your ex may have moved on by this point – or you may be able to plan things differently.
  • Treat yourself. Do something that you enjoy this Christmas – be it seeing friends, going for a day out or just taking the time to relax and forget about things for a little while. You need to reward yourself for getting through these tough times, one step at a time.

You aren’t alone

Samaritans are open throughout Christmas and you can call them on 08457 90 90 90.

How to cope with loneliness and loss this Christmas

Young woman looking upset

Christmas can be a wonderful time of year if you have lots of close family and friends around to celebrate with you, but if you’re alone, don’t get on well with your family or you’re generally feeling down it can be really hard.

You’re ‘supposed’ to be having a great time and everyone around you is ‘supposedly’ enjoying themselves and it seems like you’re the only one who isn’t and that can make you feel even more isolated.

I see clients all the time who really struggle at this time of year – and I can totally empathise with them.

For me, Christmas hasn’t been the same since my dad died. He passed away around this time, so every year is a stark reminder of his absence in our family.

He was always the one who came up with quirky party games and then forced everyone to take part. Even though his antics were always met with groans of resistance, we always ended up enjoying ourselves. I can still remember crying with laughter over a game he came up with that involved trying to pass each other peanuts with chopsticks. Since then no-one has really taken up that mantle from him.

Around the same time that my dad died, I was also dealing with the end of a long-term relationship – so there was loss all around me that year. I still remember how painful it was to be sitting in a room trying to be happy and festive but just being in pieces inside.

I tried to deal with it by keeping busy. When I didn’t have any plans with friends or family, I volunteered at a local charity. It helped to be around other people who were all focused on doing something useful together. I also went for counselling, which gave me a space to talk about and process my emotions. Time and talking were the things that helped me to move forward and deal with the pain I felt.

Get the support you need

If Christmas is a difficult time for you, talking to someone about how you feel can be the first step to feeling better. Having someone to listen to you is the greatest gift, because suddenly you don’t feel so alone with everything you’re feeling.

Remember that there are lots of people that are here to listen and who can offer you support. You can talk to your GP, or if you want to talk to someone face-to-face you can contact Relate MK on 01908 310010 or email to book an appointment.

Who else can help

If you’re feeling low and need someone to talk to, here are some other sources of support:

How to decide whose family to spend Christmas with

Christmas decorations

It’s amazing how the simple question of who to spend Christmas with torments so many of us year on year. Our 2014 research report The Way We Are Now found that 90 per cent of people would like to spend Christmas with immediate family with only 54 per cent thinking that including extended family members was a priority.

Whilst these might look like straightforward statistics, it all gets more complicated when family members have different ideas about who all these important nearest and dearest actually are.

Festive dilemmas

Deciding who to spend Christmas with is often a major source of tension in relationships, especially where families are trying to cover all bases. This is never truer than for step families or blended families where there might be competing agendas, especially where children are concerned.

At Relate, we often see people who have felt enraged by an ex-partner having somehow “manipulated” offspring into spending the big day with them instead. Of course, underneath the outrage is often terrible sadness and feelings of abandonment and failure.

Children can get anxious too if they are asked to choose which parent they want to spend the day with, and Relate counsellors often see children who feel they can’t please both parents. In order to deal with the very painful feelings this can create, they sometimes opt instead for showing their distress in behaviours which are often regarded as difficult and sometimes even abusive. This is a reason why getting to the bottom of these issues and trying to reach helpful solutions is so important.

Adapting to change

Often problems about Christmas arrangements arise when after years of going along with the same tried and tested routine, someone wants to make changes. This is often the result of life stage themes such as the kids leaving home, one family member feeling fragile following ill health, or quite simply thinking it’s about time the mould was broken. A change of scene at Christmas may be just what the family needs, but do it too suddenly and it can also create difficult dilemmas which are often made worse if people don’t communicate effectively.

At the bottom of much of this distress is often the genuine concern that if we make changes to our plans, someone who may have previously relied on us is going to be hurt and possibly alone. The fear of loneliness at this time of year is heightened – a recent Age UK poll found that nearly 400,000 people aged over 65 in the UK were worried about being lonely over Christmas.

However, there are some pointers that can often make this particular problem a little easier. Firstly, be realistic. You can’t please everyone. Neither can you or should you take on vast swathes of extra work trying to achieve the impossible. So, if it falls to you to do most of the sorting out, it might be helpful to start talking about what feels do-able sooner rather than later. This often means that more people’s opinions can be canvassed and considered before a decision is made.

Secondly, it’s usually better to make change gradually. People can often accept minor differences which before they (and you) know it, become part of a new way of doing Christmas so it’s all less of a shock to the system. Thirdly, if you have a difficult relationship with an ex-partner (or even a current one), it helps to have tricky conversations about any arrangement away from other stressors. So, finding time to connect, talk and listen to their thoughts and feelings within a neutral environment can be a really powerful way of reaching a reasonable agreement.

Finally and most importantly, do recognize it’s OK to take control of the Christmas arrangements. People have a choice about how they react to new arrangements but the old adage “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you” isn’t a bad one to think about, especially at this time of year.

This blog originally appeared as a column in The Independent.

How we can help

  • Does arguing over Christmas often cause problems in your family? Family Counselling can help you talk things through in a safe and supportive environment.
  • Phone Relate Milton Keynes 01908 310010 or email to book an appointment

My boyfriend’s daughter is sabotaging our relationship

My relationship with my partner is being ruined because he’s torn between me and his daughter. She doesn’t want us together. She blackmails him emotionally. Due to illness, I currently don’t work – although I have done most of my life – and I swear she holds this against me. He’s only been with one woman before, his ex-wife of 40 years, so I think he finds it hard to know how to deal with situation. She’s 40 with her own life and children. Why can’t she leave us alone so we can make our own life without worrying about upsetting her?

Ammanda says…

How painful this must be for you. You have a relationship that clearly means so much to you and yet you feel someone’s jeopardizing your chance of happiness. Counselling rooms all over the country are filled with blended and step families trying to make sense of new and different arrangements and the type of issue you describe is one of the most common.

It sounds like the long distance side of things is making things feel much more difficult too. You don’t tell me what ‘long distance’ actually means in your relationship (I’m wondering, for example, if you met via the internet and live some distance from each other or even if you may not have actually ‘met’ yet), but I get the impression you’re saying the sense of being powerless to influence either your partner or his daughter is even greater than it might have been.

At one level, your heartfelt plea for your partner’s daughter to leave you both alone may have a very simple answer: she can’t, because she’s his daughter. Hard as it is to believe, even when offspring are grown-ups themselves and maybe have their own lives and families, their acceptance of a parent’s subsequent relationship often doesn’t happen easily – and sometimes doesn’t happen at all. Relate counsellors see lots of families where new partnerships are under pressure because other family members are finding it difficult to accept that a parent wants and needs to move on with their lives once, for whatever reason, a previous relationship has ended. Likewise, from what you say, it sounds like your partner may feel caught between you and his daughter and may be very worried about taking any sort of assertive position because he feels that, out of the two of you, he’ll be forced to choose a ‘winner’.

I don’t know if you’ve had direct contact with his daughter. I can imagine that the thought of any interaction may seem a waste of time in the light of your current experience, or even potentially harmful. But it is worth considering that her actions might not directed at your personally, but performed out of genuine concern for her father. Feeling overprotective of a parent can be something that people find it hard to control, even when it’s causing difficulty for people around them. Although it’s easier said than done, I would suggest that you try to take a step back and think about what her actual motivation might be – because it’s surprising how often we get the wrong end of the stick.

That said, you and your partner have a right to be happy. If you haven’t already done so, I would also suggest you try and talk to him. This doesn’t mean putting him under pressure or making him feel like he’s being backed into a corner, but simply trying to discuss things openly. Tell him you recognize he needs to be able to have a relationship with both you and his daughter, because this maybe his greatest fear – and what’s keeping him like a rabbit in the head lights. But also make it clear you’re finding the present arrangement very difficult – as, aside from anything else, it may be he simply hasn’t clocked this point yet.

In the end, the only way out of this is to get some better conversations between the three of you. Although this seems daunting, being clear and direct but respectful of what’s gone before may help you all get you want what you want most.

 

My teenager has joined a gang

Finding out your teenager has joined a gang is extremely worrying and upsetting for any parent.

It can leave you concerned they’ll end up on the wrong side of the law or in a violent situation. You may want to talk to them, but aren’t sure if you’ll be able to get through. Perhaps you’ve already tried and haven’t had much success.

Why do teens join gangs?

The reasons teens join gangs are varied, but they can include:

  • Peer pressure from their friends or schoolmates
  • Wanting to gain popularity, status or respect
  • Getting mixed up in drugs or criminal activities
  • To escape negative situations at home
  • To have a sense of belonging and feel special
  • For excitement

What can I do as a parent?

You can help protect your son or daughter by trying to understand issues behind their joining a gang and getting the support you need.

  • Try to understand. When you talk to your child, try to see things from their perspective. Coming on really strong and laying down lots of rules may just push them away, so make an effort to understand why they decided to join the gang and what they’re getting out of it
  • Set a good example. Young people often join gangs because they don’t have good role models at home. Teenagers may join gangs because they are looking for a set of clear, consistent rules they can understand and live by. If their home environment is chaotic or neglectful, they may seek out a group that gives them more stability. If they’ve been treated violently at home, they’re much more likely to think of violence as an acceptable answer. And if communication at home isn’t good or you often find yourselves arguing a lot, Family Counselling can help you talk things over in a safe and supportive environment
  • Work with your partner. You and your partner will be best able to parent your teen effectively when you’re working together. Even if you aren’t together as a couple, it’s important the same messages are coming from both of you – and that your teen doesn’t think they can’t get away with playing one parent against another. Talk things through to make sure you’re on the same page. You may find Relationship Counselling a useful way of making agreements with your ex-partner
  • Talk to their school. Your son or daughter’s teachers can shed light on their behavior away from home and your school may be able to offer extra support if they’re already aware of gang-related activity amongst students. Ask the school to get specialist advice and talks from those who understand the dangers of gang activities.
  • Talk to other parents. Other parents can also be a really useful form of support, especially if they’re in the same situation.
  • Get further support. The NSPCC has a gangs helpline and information on their website. You may like to show your son or daughter the Childline website, which has a section on gangs addressed towards young people. And if you’re really concerned, you can call your local police service on 101 for advice.

How we can help

  • Young People’s Counselling provides a safe space where you teen can talk about anything that’s on their mind.
  • Phone Relate Milton Keynes 01908 310010 or email to book an appointment

My partner wants to get married but I’m not ready

It’s not uncommon for a couple have different degrees of readiness when it comes to commitment or marriage.

Perhaps your partner’s started dropping hints and you’re not quite sure how to react. Perhaps you’ve reached a point where it’s clear they’re expecting you to ask. Or perhaps you’ve started to argue about it and aren’t sure what to do.

This can be a confusing and bewildering situation for everyone involved. You might feel under lots of pressure to make a decision or risk the future of your relationship and your partner may be feeling rejected or upset.

If this is something you’re going through, it can be useful to take a step back and think about what’s causing this difference in expectations – and what you can do to address it.

What’s it about?

It’s important to state that that plenty of couples have very fulfilling long-term relationships without getting married at all. For some people, marriage is part of the expected course of a relationship. For others, it’s not something they want or need to do.

If your disagreement is based around differing attitudes towards marriage itself, you’ll need to think about whether you can find a middle ground. Sometimes, one member of the couple might be open to considering changing – sometimes not.

If you think this is going to be a difficult conversation, you might like to consider Relationship counselling which will allow you to talk in a safe, supportive and confidential environment.

Difficult questions

Sometimes, this kind of conflict comes down to a fairly simple question: is this the person you want to be with?

The answer, of course, isn’t always easy to figure out. Our attitude towards commitment and marriage can be affected by lots of stuff, such as – ideas we’ve carried throughout our lives, our experience of our parents’ marriages or insecurities or worries left over from previous relationships. Sometimes, we don’t really know what our attitude towards commitment is – and that can be confusing in itself.

However, sometimes we aren’t so much confused as reluctant to face up to difficult questions. If you don’t think your partner is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, you may need to think about whether it’s fair to continue with the relationship, particularly if you know that they’re very clear about how they would like things to develop. Is it a case for you of ‘not now, not yet’ with this person or ‘not ever’? You owe it both to yourself and to your partner to give this question careful thought.

Figuring things out

Whatever the case, the best way to get to the bottom of things is to talk openly and honestly about the issue.

Having this kind of conversation can be pretty daunting, so, if you’re feeling nervous, you might like to think about the following:

  • Don’t talk when you’re already upset. Bringing up the topic during an argument is only likely to escalate things. Instead, talk when you’re relaxed. You might even like to plan the conversation, saying, ‘This is something we need to talk about. When do you think we should do it?’
  • Try the speaker/listener technique. We tend to think we’re pretty good at listening, but in reality, it’s hard! Often, we’re just waiting for our turn to speak. During this technique, one person speaks and then the listener repeats back to them what they said. Not what they think they said or their reaction to it, but what they actually said. That way, you can really understand. Then the other person takes their turn to talk. It may feel stilted at first but it can be a very useful way of beginning to hear and understand each other.
  • Keep the conversation going. In all likelihood, this isn’t something you’re going to resolve in the space of a single discussion. It may take multiple talks, with time in between to really think about what’s been said.
  • Consider counselling. If you’re really struggling to talk without things spinning out of control, you might like to consider counselling. Your counsellor can help you to stop arguing and start talking. The conversation may not always be easy, but learning how to talk about tricky topics is an important part of any partnership and marriage, and one of the key components of that much longed-for ‘happy ever after.’

How we can help

  • Phone 01908 310010 to find out more about  Relationship counselling and how it can help.

My husband won’t accept our daughter is gay

Ask Ammanda daughter gay

 Our daughter is a clever, kind and loving young woman who recently came out as gay. I’m proud of her for being brave enough to be honest about this and be true to who she is. However, my husband is refusing to accept it. He acts as if it’s just a phase – despite our daughters insistence to the contrary – and just laughs it off if I try to talk to him. I can tell it’s hurting her deeply. What do I do?

 

Ammanda says…

I can almost feel how proud you are of your daughter. Your acknowledgement of where she is in her life right now is commendable and is only going to support her to grow into a confident young woman. Your description of her father’s refusal to do the same shows how divisive and painful this kind of issue can be within some families. Clearly, it’s causing you both a lot of upset.

However, I’m going to offer something here that might sound a bit challenging. At the moment, I’m getting the impression that you’re telling him how he should respond, rather than exploring his response with him. This is understandable, but it may not be the best way to get through. I’ve worked with many couples over the years where, whatever the issue, communication has broken down because each person has been describing it to their partner in the same way over and over. As a result, things have got stuck in the pattern of: ‘I can’t hear you because you’re not saying anything that makes sense to me.’

Very often, when we’re trying to get a partner to accept something or perhaps take a particular course of action, we skip trying to understand the reasons for their hesitation. We often do this in our haste to make everything OK and maybe patch up relationships that have come adrift. In a perfect world you would both be at the same place in welcoming your daughter’s news, but the reality is that people often take time to find out how they feel. Sometimes, a way of saying ‘I don’t know how I feel and I need some time to work it out’ is to simply say ‘no’. I wonder if, instead of telling your husband his reaction is wrong, you might have better luck trying explore with him what it might mean to him to have a child who now describes herself as gay.

There are many reasons why homosexuality is not OK for some people. Sometimes, being brought up with the idea that being gay is a bad thing means that when that child becomes a parent there is a belief that their own children should conform to heteronormative values. Having a child who challenges this can be experienced by a parent as having ‘failed’ and, as we know, feeling like a failure can be really hard to bear and often results in unhelpful behaviour. And sometimes a parent may be genuinely fearful that their child may be discriminated against because of their sexuality and think that if they can ‘hurry’ their child through this ‘phase’ they will keep them safe.

By really trying to encourage your husband to share the reasons that he believes (and possibly hopes) that this is a passing phase, you may be able to do two things. Firstly, you may understand things better (always a plus) which could lead to different and more helpful conversations. Secondly, you will be ‘modelling’ the importance of getting close to someone so that you can truly understand how they feel. There is the possibility that your husband will learn from you how he can do this with your daughter.

My final point is quite simply this: I think you should continue to help and support your daughter to be who she is. Your husband may well be watching from the side lines but he will not be able to escape seeing that you love your daughter just the same as you did before. He will see that her friends still love her because she is the same loveable person that she was before she told you she was gay. His belief that this is a phase will be severely challenged by the passage of time, the arrival of same sex partners and possibly children further down the line. All of these things will support him to accept and appreciate that he is lucky enough to be the father to a brave, honest and confident daughter.

 

How to stop arguments spinning out of control: using time outs

Couple having an argument

Have you noticed that arguments with your partner often blow up before getting resolved? Do disagreements easily pass the point of no return? Do you sometimes both say things you’ll regret later before one of you storms out? Are issues only ironed out after an apology?

Many couples bring this destructive pattern of conflict to counselling, and I’ve witnessed how hurt and exhausted they feel when they’re trapped in it. When you can’t have healthy, constructive and respectful arguments, problems can linger and resentment can creep in.

One strategy to tackle this dramatic pattern of conflict is to use time outs. These can trigger an immediate pause in the argument before you are tempted to cross that line, allowing physical and emotional space for you both to calm down. That way, when you’re together again you’ll be able to communicate more constructively rather than aim emotional darts at one another.

Using time outs

If you want to try using time outs, it’s helpful to explore the process when you’re not already in a conflict situation. You might like to sit down when you’re not feeling emotional and think about the following:

  • Choose how you would signal a time out. You might prefer a hand gesture, such as the familiar sporting ‘T’ or you could say the words verbally. Use the same method every time so that you start to establish a habit.
  • Agree that either partner can call time out. You can each take responsibility for the making the decision if it feels right – don’t ignore the signs and wait for your partner to see what’s happening. The time is right when you notice the risk of things spiralling out of control – that trigger point when symptoms of anger begin to arise and emotion is starting to override your ability to remain constructive.
  • If either of you calls time out, choose not to cross that line. Retreat by taking 15-20 minutes in separate rooms for quiet reflection.
  • Don’t use the space to wind yourselves up ready to return to battle. Once you do calm down, come back to the table ready to listen, empathise and share your viewpoints respectfully.

Does it always work?

Couples who successfully use time outs tell me they enjoy greater understanding of each other’s points of view and that it feels like they’re operating as a team. They’re able to avoid letting arguments spin out of control and end up saying things they really regret and causing damage to their relationship along the way.

However, it does require mutual commitment with both of you wanting to change how you resolve conflict. Every couple is different – it takes practice before you find your unique way to use time outs effectively. I can’t promise that you’ll never disagree or that things won’t get difficult on occasion, but you’ll start to realise that arguments can be less painful and that resolving problems doesn’t always mean you have to eat humble pie!

How we can help

  • If you’re finding it tricky, Relationship counselling can help you embed useful communication strategies into your relationship and improve how you manage your feelings.

    Book an appointment by calling 01908 310010

How do I tell my grown-up children I’m getting a divorce?

Woman looking to right

Our youngest son (18) recently left home to move to another city. Things haven’t been good between me and my husband for a while (i.e. five years or more), but having time to talk about things properly has made it clear neither of our hearts are really in this anymore and we’ve decided to separate and most likely divorce. I’m worried about how to tell our boys though. The older one is very perceptive and has probably seen this coming, but the younger is much more sensitive and I know he’d rather we stayed together as a ‘proper’ family. How do I talk to him about this?

Ammanda says…

This might not be much consolation, but so many couples start having these conversations when the last child moves away. All too often, problems that have never been talked about suddenly seem to loom even larger now there’s not much else to focus on. Whether it’s something specific that no longer feels do-able in your relationship or just that you’ve drifted apart, the end result is you’re now moving on. It’s clear from your letter that you and your husband have reached a decision and now are facing the task of helping others to understand and accept it.

My sense from your letter is you may feel your boys will have very different responses. You say your eldest may have more than an inkling and may even be expecting it. Even if that’s the case, it will still be a major change in his life and one he may need ongoing help and support dealing with. Even when children see their parents could be happier and more fulfilled apart, it still doesn’t still mean everything hasn’t changed. Yearning for what might have been is something that can affect any child – even the most mature and realistic.

You also feel your youngest is more sensitive and would probably hope you stay together. Unfortunately, while you can explain to him why you and your husband want to separate as carefully as possible, he may still be terribly upset. Of course he will want you to be happy, but may still think that you and your husband might have found a way forward together.

I’m not sure what a ‘proper’ family means for your son. I’m guessing that it might have something to do with mum, dad and kids all being together as a unit. I want to tell you that you will still be a family, even though you’re separated and possibly divorced. The key thing is that even if you and your husband go on to have new relationships, you will still both be parents to your boys. That’s the most important point to get across when you speak to them.

The other important point is to make sure you and your husband talk about each other respectfully and with care. I see many couples where one or both partners regularly off load each other’s ‘failings’ to their children. This is so unhelpful and often very damaging to a child’s wellbeing, no matter how grown up or realistic about their parents’ relationship they have been. Kids need to be able to love both of you, so it’s important to continue to nurture this as you go through this next stage in your lives.

As for actually telling them, I’d recommend being ‘sensitively straightforward’. This might sound like a contradiction in terms but it just means balancing being clear that you’ve made a decision while also making more than enough time for them to ask questions and share their concerns. Do be ready for tears too. Although they’re adults now, you can’t necessarily always expect them to act big and strong. Sometimes when we’re giving people we love information we know may well upset or cause them distress, it can be really easy to close down painful questions and occasionally anger and resentment too. Often it’s a way of protecting ourselves as well. So if they need to cry or be angry, let them. Answer their questions as clearly and honestly as you can and promise (and keep it) to let them know about practical arrangements. Above all, even though you’ll be immersed in sorting things out with your husband, it will be really helpful to make time for the boys to spend time with you individually.

Just a word also about you. You’ve made a decision that feels like the right way forward and may well come with a sense of relief. But don’t assume it won’t come with a sense of loss too. Even when it’s the right thing to do, moving away from a long term partnership can fill any of us with sadness. Just like kids really. Hopefully you and your family will be able to navigate through this next phase in your lives – but be prepared for the first part of the trip to be unpredictable.

 

10 tips for a happy relationship

Two women looking happy by a canal

1. Talk constructively

How you say things is as important as what you’re saying. If you and your partner are having a disagreement, don’t just attack them or go all-out criticising. Why not try using ‘I’ statements? By saying ‘I feel’ rather than ‘You always…’ you’re taking responsibility for your emotions and your partner won’t feel like they’re being blamed for everything. Try our three tips for improving communication with your partner.

2. Listen to each other

Listening is such an important tool in relationships. Sometimes, we find it hard to hear what our partner is saying because we’re so wrapped up in our own emotions. Remember that communication works two ways. Listening to your partner is the only way to know what’s really going on with them.

3. Don’t bottle things up

If something has upset you, you’re not doing yourself or your partner any favours by keeping it to yourself. This is only likely to cause resentment to build up that will come out in other ways. If it’s something that really matters to you, talk about it.

4. Keep things fresh

It’s a cliché, but making the effort to keep things fun and interesting in your relationship can really make a big difference. It’s easy to get complacent about having someone in your life, but this kind of attitude can also lead to boredom and dissatisfaction. Let your partner know you appreciate having them around by surprising them occasionally.

5. Let go of the little stuff

Although it’s good to talk when you’ve got something on your mind, your relationship is going to be like a battleground if you can’t ever let things slide. If it’s something that, all things considered, doesn’t actually matter that much, why not just forget about it? Nobody’s perfect – and you probably do stuff that your partner finds annoying too!

6. Appreciate what you have

Many people end up looking outside their relationship because they think there’s someone out there who is ‘better’ for them. Relationships aren’t about finding the ‘perfect partner’ – whatever that means. They’re about allowing the connection you do have to develop and grow. The strongest relationships are usually the ones that have been given the time to flourish.

7. Give each other space

Although it’s great spending quality time together, don’t forget you both need to nurture your interests and friendships. Couples who spend every moment in each other’s pockets can easily begin to feel unfulfilled when they realise that their personal interests have started to slip. Allow each other to spend time on the things you enjoy separately. When you reconvene as a couple you’ll be pleased to see each other and have lots to talk about. Try our four steps for setting healthy boundaries in your relationship.

8. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself

It’s easy to worry about whether your relationship is as good as it ‘should’ be. Just as we can get wrapped up in having the best clothes or latest gadgets, we can worry about having relationships that are as exciting and passionate as the ones we see depicted in movies or hear about in songs. Relationships aren’t about constantly feeling butterflies – we all have our own unique ways of experiencing them and you’ll know what’s right for you. Enjoy yours for what it is – and be grateful that it’s there!

9. Avoid jealousy and build trust

Jealousy can destroy relationships, and nothing is less attractive than the green eyed monster. If you’re worried your partner isn’t giving you enough attention, try the open, honest approach rather than acting out or accusing them of looking elsewhere. Building mutual trust is the key to banishing unhealthy emotions and remaining strong together.

10. Work on it

It’s not always the most popular way of thinking about them, but relationships can be work. They need to be nurtured and given the space and attention they deserve. Communication isn’t something to do only occasionally – it should be a constant. It’s only by not taking your relationship for granted that your connection will stay strong. But the rewards, as anyone in a happy relationship knows, are more than worth the effort.