Tick tock, tick tock! The big day is nearly upon us and many of us will be rushing round to get everything sorted before the 25th of December. It is an exciting - if a little hectic - time of year.
Without wanting to put a dampener on the festivities, for family lawyers, Christmas is often seen as ‘the calm before the storm’. It’s a sad fact that we solicitors see a sharp rise in the number of people visiting our offices in the New Year. In fact, the first working Monday of the year is known as Divorce Day.
But what is it that makes so many people want to begin divorce proceedings immediately after the festive season? Why has the season of ‘goodwill to all men’; a time of kindness and giving, become the breaking point for some families?
Right now, more than 40 per cent of British couples are considering ending their relationship in the divorce courts. It’s hard to underestimate quite how big a decision this is for either party. Going through a divorce can be one of the most demanding and emotionally turbulent times anyone can experience. Although each case is different, if there is significant disagreement, the complexities of dividing ‘a life shared’ can mean a long and difficult process.
For this 40 per cent, what is traditionally an enjoyable time of year can put undue stress on an already failing relationship. While spending ‘quality time’ with the family can be a wonderful experience for a couple whose relationship is strong, for those whose relationship is under strain, increased time with the other partner in confined spaces can be a recipe for disaster.
While Mr and Mrs Bloggs might ordinarily find relief in time apart – whether at work, when out and about or sharing time with friends – Christmas brings 2-3 days of close contact…especially if the winter weather makes travel outside the home all but impossible!
What’s more, a warring couple often find themselves under close scrutiny from friends and family. The usual rounds of visitors cannot help but notice any tension and there will be increased pressure to ‘keep up appearances’, particularly at this time of year.
Finances can also play a part creating more stress and strain. Christmas is a time for giving. But, like most things in our modern world, giving often equates to parting with significant amounts of cash. Parents will be under pressure to buy the latest high-tech present for the children; to feed the extended family with an obscene amount of food and to fill the petrol tank to the brim in anticipation of travelling to visit friends and family. This will inevitably raise tensions and cause arguments, particularly where money is tight.
Add into the mix a heady blend of beer, wine and spirits, rich food, red meat and – quite possibly – one or two hangovers, and a fragile relationship is likely to be tested to its very limit.
Each of these elements can be the ‘final straw’, the point at which either party, or both, realises that they cannot cope anymore. The urge to cut the ties can be overwhelming, hence why we see more divorce cases around this time of year than at any other.
However, there are ways to manage a difficult relationship over the festive period and perhaps even strengthen it if a few key rules are followed:
- Take some time to think about what you want from the festive season. Talk about this with your partner. Discuss how this would work in practice. Make sure you are willing to compromise for his/her sake, agree upon a plan and then stick to it.
- The same goes for money. Put aside an hour or two with your partner to talk about your budget for the Christmas period. What do you need, what would you like and what could you do without? Think about important people like children and close family. Again, be prepared to compromise and stick to the plan you agree.
- Don’t bring unnecessary burdens into the holidays. If there are problems or issues that are likely to make Christmas less enjoyable for you and your family, discuss them with your partner. If not, you might find them bubbling to the surface at the wrong time, potentially upsetting you and your family.
- Make a conscious effort to enjoy the festivities by keeping calm. Equally, don’t allow any tension you might be experiencing to affect the mood of others. Keep everything in perspective and try not to take things too seriously – after all, it’s only Christmas!
One thing to consider, above anything else, is the role that good communication can play in helping to soothe tensions in your relationship. This isn’t as simple as just announcing how you feel and expecting to be listened to. Communication, particularly where a relationship is under stress, involves a great deal of listening too. Take the time to understand how your partner feels and resist the temptation to simply bury the issue.
Finally, be sure to use a little Christmas spirit. Try to be kind, understanding and caring to your partner, even if it is difficult to do so. It is likely to benefit, not just your relationship, but everyone’s enjoyment of this time of year.