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January 3rd, 2017 by Marta J. Papa


Part 8: Maybe It’s Not a Marital Problem…Maybe It’s a Holiday Problem

I have spent the month of December focusing upon the not-so-uncommon malaise of the Holiday False Alarm Syndrome, which predictably rears its ugly head each year in many households. And–not unlike Shakespeare’s Richard the III’s complaint of “now is the winter of our discontent”–many couples feel like war-weary veterans, as the holiday season exhausts itself under the weight of its own frenzied momentum.

And, each January, I am not surprised by an appointment calendar that quickly books up with couples seeking a divorce consultation. Yet, sometimes couples are surprised by the outcome of their appointment.

By making a divorce mediation appointment and by honestly answering probing questions I pose to them, couples in crisis often make new discoveries, which can sometimes liberate them from following intended divorce proceedings. Here are some crucial points I urge them to explore:

Where is the dissatisfaction in the marriage you can identify? Are there solutions?

Is there a trigger that is prompting your spouse to exhibit negative/destructive behavior during the holidays? If so, do you know what that trigger is?

Are you and your spouse in full communication with each other? When was the last time you truly talked, checked in with each other, focused on your spouse instead of the kids, scheduled a date night?

Is this behavior a predictable pattern in December? Does your relationship automatically reset itself to neutral once the following months proceed into spring?

Have you been hiding a destructive habit? Have you been withholding a sensitive issue that requires disclosure and attention?

By revealing heretofore unknown truths or by simply acknowledging some genuinely destructive personality traits, some couples are able to repair an otherwise imploding marital relationship. At those times, I am heartened to know they will not become an “if only I had stayed with my former spouse” statistic. Sometimes clichés are overused for a reason, as they state an obvious truth, and “the grass is not always greener” when spouses go adventuring to other pastures is one such maxim. The consequences of a divorce are real, and often they are damaging to all who are involved, parents and children alike.

If personal fantasies of flights of freedom or cinematic expectations of a new, more fully realized life are fostered by either immaturity or narcissism, then a ruptured home life through divorce is not likely to bring the hoped for outcome. Rather, accountability and the hard task of growing up and accepting personal responsibility are the answers for such couples…not a divorce.

Earlier in the month, I mentioned my friend Sylvie T., who dreaded the holidays as a child and carried this repulsion with her into adulthood. Sadly, Sylvie’s mother had so darkened the Christmas season with her tyrannical moods that Sylvie’s reflexes as she matured were simply to disown the holiday season all together. Had Mr. and Mrs. T. sought a divorce mediator consultation before heading straight into a contentious divorce litigation, perhaps their marriage could have been saved. Most importantly, perhaps, my friend Sylvie could have advanced into her adulthood with a healthy, stable home life of her own… and eagerly anticipated the holiday season with joy and thanksgiving, rather than dread and dismissal.