Monday, January 6, will see divorce lawyers, family mediators and couples counsellors all over the country checking their email inboxes and voice messages with more anticipation than usual. As the first day of the first full working week of 2014, tomorrow is known in the relationship crisis business as Divorce Day.
For those who make their livings out of relationship difficulties, there are two busy seasons each year: the first weeks of September after the end of the school holidays, and the first working week after the Christmas and New Year break. If your relationship is in suppressed crisis, there’s nothing like a few weeks in the company of your partner or your partner and the kids to push one or both of you to make a big decision.
It’s pretty obvious why Christmas and New Year is the season most likely to push couples into calling time or calling in outside help. Even for relationships that are good enough not to make us want to leave, Christmas can be a costly, tiring, and rather joyless slog. By the time New Year rolls round, tempers are likely to have frayed more than once, children are under-stimulated and bored, and many of us start to worry about how much we have spent on it all. No wonder the New Year leads some to hope that it might all better next time round with someone else or even just on their own.
Solicitors reportedly see a 30% spike in divorce related enquiries in the first working days after New Year. According to Jane Robey, Chief Executive of National Family Mediation, the UK’s largest provider of couples mediation, 2014 could be busier than ever: “The festive season is always a difficult time for couples on the edge. Many people get through the tensions for the sake of the children, but then want to make a new start. This year, add the pressures of debt, worries about holding onto jobs, and other recession-related problems and you’ve got an explosive mixture.”
Many of those who decide enough is enough this January may well have been considering their decision for a while and have explored strategies for improving or saving their relationship already. Others are equally likely not to have thought or talked things through with their partner as thoroughly as they could. So my advice is before you tell your partner it is over or call your solicitor to ask for their divorce specialist, talk to your partner and tell him or her why this Christmas has not been all that you had hoped. If that fails to get dialogue going, then think about seeing a couples therapist, ideally together, to talk about what happened over the holidays and what you can learn from it about the challenges in your relationship. One of the truths universally forgotten by couples in crisis is that counselling and therapy costs a fraction of the average legal bill for a separation or divorce.
But what about those who didn’t have such a great Christmas with their partners, but found it just about bearable? Well, to paraphrase Tolstoy, all happy family Christmases resemble one another, but each unhappy family Christmas is unhappy in its own unique way. The patterns of behaviour between couples that we put up with the rest of the year become uniquely intolerable under the pressure of a family Christmas. But at least we begin January knowing exactly the things that we hate and loathe about our partners and they about us. That makes the first weeks of January a very good time to get professional help and do something about them, before the emotional discomfort of Christmas fades with the last of mince pies and the whole cycle of burying our emotions and building up another year of resentment begins again.
So if Christmas this year has left you feeling that all is not right with your relationship, then contact a professional couples or relationship therapist and make sorting things out a priority for the New Year. If you do, there’s a good chance that you won’t be on the phone to your lawyer or in a taxi with a suitcase next January.