Ah Christmas! That wonderful time of year when relationships are wonderful, children beautifully behaved and even the dog seems to be smiling. A fragrant turkey roast wafts its scent through the immaculately clean and exquisitely decorated house while long-lost family members reminisce pleasantly over mince pies and sweet sherry. Sparkling tinsel reflects the love, joy and gratitude that the happy couple in the centre of the scenario are casting over the other members of the happy family cast, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings.

No, not really! If the house is immaculate and shining, it is because someone has just spent most of the previous night scrubbing and buffing and polishing until they are on the point of exhaustion, the children and the grandparents will last a maximum of 20 minutes before the first raised voice or hair-tug and if the ‘happy couple’ are no more than barely contented for the rest of the year Christmas has no magic to provide a cure-all.

In fact, Christmas time works as a magnifier to highlight flaws and problems within a relationship. The holidays are for spending time with the people you live with, and getting to know their family a bit better, as well as touching base with your own extended family. Personal family relationships are also complicated, the layer of love and tolerance generally well sprinkled with rancour, spite and a healthy measure of contempt, brought about, as the old saying goes, by familiarity.

No-one knows you better than your parents or siblings, and nothing can be worse than your partner being filled in on all those toe-curlingly embarrassing incidents that you had somehow managed not to mention over the entire duration of the relationship so far. The strain of your family, plus the partners family, interacting with the unit that is your own fledgling family can increase tension a hundredfold.

There are two peaks in the year when break-ups can occur and relationships shatter. Unsurprisingly, one of them is around the holiday season, over Christmas and New Year. However if you are determined to make the relationship work; all is not lost. The National Family Mediation Service has trained advisors who can help you to target and relieve pressure points in your relationship; helping you overcome the obstacles you face and move forward, as a family, stronger than ever, so that next year, you will be able to face Christmas with optimism and humour.