Have you ever returned from a special trip with your spouse, only to wonder if your relationship is falling apart?
If so, you’re not alone. A study from the University of Washington shows that conflicts and even divorces tend to peak in March and August, the periods following summer and winter vacations.
It seems that divorce is, in fact, a seasonal phenomenon, driven by a calendar of domestic rituals that govern family behavior. Vacations, it turns out, may make underlying tensions more obvious to married couples, leading to clashes and, in many cases, divorce proceedings.
VACATIONS MAY REVEAL THE CRACKS IN A MARRIAGE
The researchers theorized that couples may see the holidays as a time to repair their relationships. But in reality, vacation periods can be emotionally charged and stressful, exposing the shortcomings in a marriage. When carefully laid plans don’t work out as anticipated, spouses may feel even more disappointed than before – a recipe for further conflict.
“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past,” says Julie Brines, one of the study’s lead investigators. “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 notes.
When plans fall apart and conflicts escalate, couples may just decide to call it quits, filing for divorce at the end of the summer as the kids go back to school or early in the New Year following the winter holidays.
The researchers began by looking at divorce rates in the state of Washington and considered many factors that could be involved, such as seasonal economic and employment trends. But even when controlling for those factors, they found the same pattern of conflict and divorce filings following vacation seasons.
ADVICE FOR COUPLES WHO WANT TO STAY TOGETHER
While a good vacation will not heal a troubled relationship, there are things that couples can do to avoid becoming part of the post-vacation pattern of conflict and divorce.
- LOOK AFTER YOUR RELATIONSHIP ALL YEAR LONG
Don’t rely on special times to somehow mend the difficulties that are brewing between you. Take time out on a consistent basis to address what’s working, what’s not and what you both can do about it. Weekly conversations that go beyond the regular laundry list of chores and duties are an excellent practice for committed couples who want to keep their relationships fresh.
- DON’T LOAD YOUR VACATION WITH FANTASY WISHES
Keep in mind that while the time away can be restorative, it is not a magic solution for the conflicts you are experiencing. Keeping vacation plans simple and allowing plenty of time for conversation will help. Look for ways to spend time alone without children or family present, which can help set the stage for open, honest dialogue. Above all, guard against the illusion that strolling on the beach will somehow heal all the difficulties between you. It’s a lovely start, but there will be work ahead if you’re going to stay together.
- SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP WHILE CONFLICTS ARE STILL MANAGEABLE
Don’t wait until you can hardly speak to one another to begin the process of addressing the rifts in your marriage. An experienced couples counselor can help you reestablish the trust and intimacy you once had – but the process will be easier if you begin before things get out of hand. Seek out a qualified therapist who will assist you in getting the issues out on the table and putting together a practical strategy for healing the differences between you.
CONCERNED ABOUT YOUR MARRIAGE? JANAE MUNDAY CAN HELP
If you’re worried about the state of your marriage, help is close at hand. With the right support, you can turn toward one another again – and recreate the love and trust you once enjoyed.
As a professional couples therapist with decades of experience, Janae Munday, LCSW, has helped hundreds of Phoenix-area couples build stronger, more caring relationships. To schedule a confidential appointment, contact Janae now.