It appears that seasonal divorce really is a thing, according to new research. Holidays are supposed to be a time of relaxation and celebration, but for many couples it can be the tipping point for their relationship. While spring and autumn seem to be the most popular seasons for getting married, divorce appears to have it’s own season as well. Christmas holidays have just lost a bit of their shine.
To everything there is a season
A time for every purpose under Heaven
A time to be born
and a time to die
A time to plant
and a time to pluck what is planted
A time to kill
and a time to heal
A time to break down
and a time to build up
A time to cast away stones
and a time to gather stones
A time to embrace
and a time to refrain from embracing
Well, it just seems that the writer of Ecclesiastes may have had a bit of life experience. Apparently King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (although why you’d want that many spouses is anyone’s guess). I wonder whether he noticed particular times when his relationships with his wives were more strained than at other times. New research from the University of Washington that has identified the season when most couples are ‘breaking down’ and ‘refraining from embracing’. There really is a season for everything.
Sociologists from the University of Washington claim to have quantitative evidence of a seasonal pattern of divorce. They analysed divorce filings in Washington state between 2001 and 2015 and found that divorce really does peak in the holiday season. It’s called seasonal divorce.
Seasonal Divorce: Holidays Aren’t Always Relaxing
Associate professor Julie Brines says a holiday can expose “fissures” in a marriage. She says holidays can be emotionally charged and stressful for many couples and when they don’t live up to expectations it creates disillusionment in an already unhappy relationship. “People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointment they might have had in years past. They represent periods in the year when there’s the anticipation or the opportunity for a new beginning, a new start, something different, a transition into a new period of life. It’s like an optimism cycle, in a sense. They’re very symbolically charged moments in time for the culture,” she said.
In Australia, separation peaks just after Christmas time and often it’s the summer getaway that has pushed a couple to breaking point, says relationship expert Dr Nikki Goldstein. “If you are using a vacation to mend a relationship more so than often the relationship is already in the red zone,” Dr Goldstein said. “The stress of Christmas and going on holiday will intensify any cracks already in the marriage.”
There’s the stress of packing, organising what happens to the kids and the family pet, plus the added financial pressures. Couples tend to bottle everything in during the year and by the time January comes around they just snap.
Most family law firms report that every year, there is a marked rise in enquiries and instructions in January from people who have decided that the time is right to separate from their partner. Financial pressures are also known to be key issues in arguments at this time of year with 40% of parents admitting that this was causing strains in their relationship. So it appears that seasonal divorce peaks in January.
Perhaps this is why the second busiest month in Australia for divorce filing is September. The memory of the previous summer holiday spurs people to act before the next one arrives. The author of the study notes that the arrival of spring seems to encourage people into action. Suicides also tend to peak in spring, and some experts have said the longer days and increased activity elevates mood enough to motivate people to act. Brines wonders if similar forces are at play with divorce filings. Perhaps it is these factors, and the dread of dragging it out through another family Christmas that has some influence over the Australian spike in seasonal divorce in September.
Seasonal Divorce: Communication is Essential
According to counselling psychotherapist and relationships expert, Dr Karen Phillip, having an effective conversation about your marriage is a must. Communication is essential to any healthy relationship and often we don’t carve out the time we need for those conversations to take place.
Once resentment and bitterness creep into a relationship it often spells the start of the end of that relationship. It’s much better to start talking sooner, before those feelings begin to appear. Sometimes it takes time to learn how to talk well with one another and seeking the advice of a professional counsellor or relationship expert can be a great move in honing your relational communication skills to a healthier level. Not all of us were shown well as kids what healthy communication looked like. What we picked up from the adults around us needs to be untaught so that we can connect and understand well with not just our spouse, but our whole family. Even if we know we’re going ahead with a divorce, these skills will only help in any negotiations for separating well.
But if we’re not quite there, yet – “What then can couples do to protect their relationship from this holiday stress?” says Dr Phillip:
- Communicate about the relationship before going away. Share your thoughts, feelings and concerns with your partner
- Always have a solution instead of simply discussing the problem, this is where most couples fall down. Establish what it is you both want and need and determine if you can achieve that result
- Consider counselling support to accelerate the process
- If you both enjoy different types of holidays agree that the odd year he may choose and the even year she can choose; this way it remains balanced
- Plan your itinerary together or agree on some individual activities
- Set a budget for the trip and ensure both stick to it realistically
Our seasoned family lawyers are more than happy to answer your divorce questions. We offer a free, 10-minute phone conversation. Please contact us today!