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December 8th, 2016 by Marta J. Papa


Part 2: Maybe It’s Not a Marital Problem…Maybe It’s a Holiday Problem

I became aware of the Holiday Marital False Alarm Syndrome in my childhood. Sylvie T. was my best buddy through the early years of schooling, and we were always together.   Weekends would come and go, with our key priority being who was going to be doing the overnight at the other’s home.

Yet, without fail, every December there was a notable shift in the frequency Sylvie would propose staying over at my house. I always found this rather strange, as the holidays always ushered in my greatest season of joy and wonder. My mom would decorate the inside of the house, my dad would string lights outside, and my brother and sister and I would do circles around our Christmas tree counting who had the most wrapped packages. (Hey, we were kids!)

Sylvie’s house was next door, and her parents attended to all the same holiday rituals—lights, tinsel, and parties. There always seemed to be a constant stream of merriment at their house, as Sylvie’s dad was a successful businessman and her attractive mom was a socialite, who loved entertaining. Their front door was always opening—her parents greeting guests eager to be feted–and closing, as the long evenings drew to a close. So…why did Sylvie prefer to be at my house? My parents were not so social, and our home life revolved around established routines (even with the holidays in full motion).

Only when we were in college did I learn Sylvie’s reason: every Christmas her mom would enter a socially induced, competitive mindset that would render her angry…when she was not depressed.   Mrs. T. had created imagined standards in her mind of what the holiday experience should look like. So typically every year, Mrs. T. exceeded the family Christmas budget (causing her husband additional fiscal concerns for their already extravagant lifestyle). And, as the parties Mrs. T. prided herself on hostessing drew to an ebb, she always was the last one to empty her wine glass at the end of the evening. And, apparently, Mrs. T. was not a happy drinker after her third drink.

Even as a child, Sylvie could always anticipate the next stage of the frequent, nightly drama. Fights erupted between her parents; words were exchanged in anger, fueled by stress, alcohol, and Mrs. T.’s social competitiveness. As Sylvie entered her teenage years, her father revealed to her that he always dreaded the holidays. Invariably, Mr. T. always came up short in his wife’s eyes: not enough earned expendable income, not the best conversationalist at the parties, not the husband who always selected the perfect gift for his wife. Or…quite simply, not the perfect husband.

So, not a Christmas season passed and not a January arrived without Mrs. T. declaring that a divorce was necessary. She was simply not satisfied with her lifestyle or her husband.

Yet, by April, Sylvie always knew summer’s vacation plans would soon be part of the conversation at the dinner table. Her parents’ marriage was intact…for another year…until the next December’s predictable stress descended upon her home.

This is a classic example of Holiday Marital False Alarm Syndrome (HMFAS).

In my practice, I have come to not be surprised by an influx of divorce consultations in January and February. Fortunately, I often can save my prospective clients a lot of money and stress when I give them a proper marital diagnosis: It’s not your marriage that’s the problem here!   Let’s look elsewhere.

Next week, I will help you indentify for yourself if you are inclined to suffer from HMFAS…or, if not you, perhaps your spouse. Remember: Knowledge is power, and knowledge is the proper way to fuel important, life-changing decisions…for you and your children.