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December 29th, 2016 by Marta J. Papa


Part 7: Maybe It’s Not a Marital Problem…Maybe It’s a Holiday Problem

Now that Christmas and Hanukkah are behind us, and New Year’s Day 2017 is fast approaching, many couples who experience annual stress-related marital holiday issues will resume breathing more deeply and much easier once again. As the well-known predictors of too many expectations and not enough sleep subside (coupled with too much food and alcohol and not enough exercise and quiet meditation/prayer time), many marriages reset to an acceptable level of tolerance and marital satisfaction. And, once the children return to school (and, now, eagerly await their spring break to come), couples often resume their own rhythms and the marital stress subsides.

For other couples, however, the holidays may have been the catalyst to genuinely identify serious issues in the marriage that are, in fact, undermining the well-being of the household. From my vantage point in a marital mediation consultation with a couple, usually these serious issues can be placed in one of three categories: physical abuse (of a spouse/of the children), substance abuse (alcohol, prescription drugs, binge gambling), and/or sexual unfaithfulness (adultery). Any of these situations can, indeed, signal the death-knell of a marriage.

When one of these factors is discovered/revealed in a divorce consultation, my question to the couple is a straightforward one: Is a divorce the answer or is there personal accountability/responsibility necessary and recommended, which could repair the marital relationship and make it solvent once again?

In those instances with the genuine possibility of marital repair, my advice to couples is succinct: attend to the relational crisis with professional help before advancing towards a divorce. By doing so, some marriages can emerge stronger than before and proceed in a newly established, healthier environment for the spouses and the children, as well. Sometimes a financial advisor is helpful; sometimes a qualified therapist who focuses upon substance abuse issues is helpful; sometimes a marriage counselor can help couples sort through the devastation of an acknowledged affair and, perhaps, uncover the genuine emotional needs unmet heretofore by one spouse.

And, as always, I highly urge caution in protecting and safe-guarding the children of the home. In fact, as parents act out, it is most common for their children to revert to self-protective reaction-responses of their own, which sometimes takes the form of negative behaviors: withdrawal from friends and social activities, substance abuse, personal abuse (anorexia/self-cutting), and/or depression. Once again, a qualified child/adolescent therapist can make great strides in returning disturbed children to a state of equilibrium and well-being, while their parents are attending to their own personal responsibilities in creating a healthy home environment.

As I work with couples experiencing Holiday Marital False Alarm Syndrome, my hope is they can identify and resolve their issues honestly, openly, and maturely. By doing so, they are often capable of resuscitating a marriage that, otherwise, is barely holding on…and seemingly stuck on ever declining life-support. Yet, with proper intervention and personal accountability, a family unit often can remain intact and even flourish.

And that is the best New Year’s gift of all!