Now for millions of people, Christmas represents a time of the year to spend with families, eating, drinking and generally being merry (sometimes too merry!). However for many, this time of the year represents sadness, anxiety, loneliness and self-reflection.

I’d like to look into some of the reasons why this time of year, which after all is meant to be super positive and filled with hope, becomes such a danger point for many people and many families.

Lets start around October – it seems that even before Guy Fawkes’s night is done with, many of the high-street shops have already started tentatively stocking their shelves with Xmas goods. This then, for some, is the start of the anxiety, knowing that they will struggle to afford even a modest Xmas with their family, suddenly the expectation is ‘thrust’ upon them to start buying Xmas goods already. As we move into November, the commercial machine starts revving up with adverts, mainly aimed at children, of the best, shiny, new and invariably expensive gift that they simply MUST have!

As the weeks roll on towards late November, Xmas music can be heard in stores, again increasing the intensity of expectation to have a wonderful Xmas. This is even before the food shopping starts – the stress involved, the financial stress and the realisation that we have to ‘look good’ to others and the realisation we’re going to be around our family / loved one’s 24/7 for the duration.

In December, we’re usually so exhausted – we’re just looking forward to that holiday! But hey, this is party season – so let’s make plans for every weekend, sometimes three nights over the weekend, when all we feel like doing is relaxing, recharging and getting ready to spend some time with the family.

The financial pressures that men and families are under during this period of the year, for some can be serious enough to slip into depression. A recent study found that 40% of couples rate financial pressures as the main indicator of stress and that because of this, 37% of men over Xmas feel lonely or isolated. This feeling, if left unchecked, can easily topple over into a more serious condition such as depression or anxiety disorder.

The big day arrives, and rather than being able to enjoy the day – it’s all about preparing and cooking the dinner, gifts and other extravagances. Once more, anxiety of whether other people coming over will judge the dinner is lavish enough or grand enough. As always, we over-eat and over-drink – (not exclusively) another two indicators of stress responses over the festive period and this is done for a number of reasons, sometimes just to get lost in yourself and find some peace!

So What Does This Mean?

Divorce rates have historically been higher in January with ‘unreasonable behaviour’ being cited as the main reason. Divorce is complex and usually isn’t down to ‘unreasonable behaviour’ over just one day. In a recent study it was reported that divorce instructions were up 27% in January when compared with an ‘average’ month and that 20% of couples were planning to agree to divorce after ‘one last Christmas’ with solicitors reporting appointments in the New Year being booked in December.

The difference with Christmas compared to the rest of the year is that there is an intense period of approximately two to three weeks which will test any couple, and often break couples who were already going through difficulties. There is a lot of financial stress associated with the large expenses a family encounters in the month of December, and as a result of days off work, the couple are spending more time in each others’ company during the stress of the holiday preparations – driving in wintry conditions, Christmas traffic, packed shops, expense after expense etc.

More time is spent with in-laws, which for many partners is not a pleasant experience, and soon the pressure on the relationship starts to build up. There is, in many households, a higher consumption of alcohol which can result in things that were held back being vocalised, or to inappropriate behaviour in the family setting or at a work party.

Finally, one of the partners may have been considering divorce for sometime but preferred to wait until after Christmas to avoid awkwardness at family gatherings, or in particular if there are children involved. They will often wait until January to communicate to their spouse that they want to divorce.

In a 2014 study, The Samaritans found :

  • 48% of men felt depressed at Christmas time – that’s NEARLY HALF of us men feeling depressed!
  • 45% of men feel that others expect them to feel or be happy at Christmas (when in actual fact – they are far from happy).
  • Given the statistics above and the whole process around what’s just been described – I have one question. What are we doing here?
  • Comparing ourselves with other people, other families, the wonderful images portrayed on the TV and other media.
  • Buying into the massive advertising machine that tells us all to have a Merry Xmas.
  • Dealing with stress W-A-Y above what is a normal operating level, for W-A-Y more time than is necessary or safe!
  • Placing unrealistic expectations on ourselves

How Can I Overcome This?

Christmas in itself does not cause divorce, and in many cases it actually stalls it for a few months. Rather, we should be conscious of the added stress that comes with preparing for the holiday season, and be more careful with consumption of alcohol if you want to help protect against existing problems in the relationship escalating.

Usually you will know, even if you don’t want to admit, that your relationship is in difficulty. Adding Christmas into the mix could cause some real damage here guys.

If you’re serious about saving your relationship – you need to have the courage to broach the subject with your partner in an ADULT way.

Understand your triggers and those of your partner. Try and plan your holiday for the people that matter – YOU.

Don’t try and keep up with the Jones’, don’t compare yourself against anyone else and remember the most important people in the world – your family.