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December 19th, 2016 by Marta J. Papa

Part 4: Maybe It’s Not a Marital Problem…Maybe It’s a Holiday Problem

In my last blog posting, I listed the six questions I request clients to reflect upon and carefully respond to, when I feel they are not yet a divorce-ready couple (for a review, please refer to Part 3 of this December’s postings). Before a second appointment with me, I ask the couple-in-crisis for a copy of their considered responses. This is where meaningful dialogue with the couple can begin during our next meeting.

Sometimes this discovery process reveals situational issues that can be addressed without the necessity for an actual divorce by the parties. Upon reflection, some clients come to realize that there is, in fact, a noticeable pattern to their marital discontent around the holidays. Perhaps there is too much alcohol consumption during the seasonal, frenzied party scene. But…the rest of the year, moderate drinking is the norm. Perhaps there is too much end-of-the-year job stress and anxiety…but by February, a new year’s business pattern is in place.

Perhaps relatives and/or friends–who not only try one of the spouse’s patience, but his/her well-being, as well—are no longer in the field of vision…until the next holiday year. Perhaps, like my friend Sylvie, the couple has inherited holiday-anxiety issues from their family of origin; but once the season’s cycle turns, the couple, too, returns to a state of equilibrium.

When I steer a marital conversation towards possible options to mollify and/or disarm the situational discord, couples are often relieved to envision other solutions that are possible to offset their marital woes. Here is a perfect example….

When I learned one couple fought predictably each year over chronic, toxic discord between the wife and her mother-in-law, I suggested three possible alternatives to their marital friction:

  1. The husband and the children could spend time with his mother/the kids’ grandparent, while the wife remained absent…and away from the mother-in-law’s negative, nasty, personal digs directed purposefully towards her.
  2. The husband and wife could decide upon their own holiday tradition and exclude the toxic mother-in-law…perhaps by taking a trip elsewhere; perhaps by including more people in holiday gatherings at their home to buffer the wife. Or…
  3. The husband could directly address his mother and state that any toxicity directed towards his wife would not be tolerated by him. (This was always my favorite option, as it made the husband clearly regard his wife’s feelings/well-being over his mother’s destructive behavior.)

By helping my clients to clearly identify The Holiday Marital False Alarm Syndrome, I save them not only money…but, often, their marriage, as well. And, along the way, the couple has grown in appreciation and greater knowledge of each other and each other’s needs!