The New Year is a time when many people decide to live their lives differently. For many of us, this means vowing to lose weight, or learning to cook like Heston Blumenthal (those two resolutions are not necessarily mutually exclusive).
For some however, New Year is a siren call to a more radical change. We divorce lawyers always see a spike in enquiries at this time, peaking during the first full working week of the year. But what prompts people to decide call time on their marriage and start anew? I have found a number of common factors in the enquiries I receive.
Firstly, the pressure to have the perfect family Christmas is often too much to bear, particularly for the woman. Without wishing to generalise, my experience is that it matters not one iota how successful the woman is, how high-flying or well-paid her job; she is usually the one who takes responsibility for the festive season and all that this involves.
Secondly, family. Christmas is the one time of year when it is obligatory to see both your immediate and extended family, regardless of whether or not you get on with them. Couples find themselves with their parents and in-laws taking up residence in the spare rooms for what seems like an eternity, with grumbling children none too happy about being turfed out of their bedroom so that Granny and Grandad can stay. Or perhaps couples have to take themselves and their children to the back end of beyond to stay with a relative who views central heating as a luxury and considers a bath containing four inches of tepid water akin to an expensive spa treatment. One child is inconsolable because he's left his Nintendo DS at home and the other waits until you're 200 miles from home before opening her backpack to reveal she's brought Mrs Miggins the guinea pig with her. Whatever the situation, the stress-o-meter is up to crisis level.
Racing round the kitchen on Christmas Eve, trying to accomplish 15 things at once whilst one's other half makes helpful remarks along the lines of "if you had a proper SYSTEM you'd get a lot more done, you know" is not conducive to a happy relationship, so it's no wonder that come the New Year people think they've had enough and want out.
However, looking at the January divorce spike logically, my experience is that if a relationship is foundering then all that Christmas does is expose the fault lines that perhaps have been ignored or disguised throughout the year. It's no coincidence that the end of the summer holiday period also sees something of a rise in enquiries; when people are forced to spend extended amounts of time together they often find that those personality quirks or attitudes that get swallowed up in day-to-day life are suddenly magnified in all their uncomfortable glory. Also, it may be that couples, aware that their relationship is on the rocks, decide to wait until after Christmas before making their decision to split a formal one. The festivities also often involve a lot of alcohol, a known disinhibitor. I've had plenty of clients come to me in January having been told some unpleasant truths by their partner at 2am on January 1 and wanting to divorce them as a result.
Whatever their reasons, a strong relationship will withstand any difficult situation, bedecked with fairy lights or not. And on that note, may I wish you all a happy, prosperous and stress-free 2012.