- Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.
Marital Problems Over the Holidays: Anything is Possible
Anything is possible. That's what I believe.
Typically this time of year, many marriages are in trouble. I work more hours in my clinical practice in January than I do in the summer months combined. I'm sure I'm not the only Psychologist who says that.
More people experience marital difficulties in December than any other month. Consequently, January is busy for therapists and attorneys. Some call it the "divorce month".
Men and women with marriages in trouble going into the holidays tell themselves, "I'll just get through the holidays for the sake of the kids" and then it gets tougher. They may not be prepared for the pressure because they sweep their difficulties under the rug, hoping to get past the holidays.
During the holidays, there is an expectation that you are suppose to be happy. It takes a lot of energy to act fine when you don't feel fine.
Interacting with family during the holidays can be an added pressure when a marriage is having significant trouble. The stress of trying to stay under the radar can take it's toll on a person and on a marriage.
Alcohol only adds to the problem. During the holidays, some people may use alcohol as a coping strategy. We all know what can happen when you over serve yourself to take away your problems.
Just because the holidays can be stressful on a marriage already in trouble, doesn't necessarily mean a divorce is imminent.
Because . . . I think anything is possible.
When a couple comes into my office to work on their marriage, I'm not focused on the odds of whether or not they will make it or divorce. I'm focused on the signs that help me see how to best help them improve their marriage. Here are the signs I look for:
Are they arguing, even in the waiting room before we get started? If they are, I like that. It tells me they are still engaged with each other.
Are they trying to resolve issues or are they focused on making repair attempts to improve their marriage? If they don't know the difference, then I will teach them.
Has at least one person in the couple been threatening divorce for a few years? If there is a history of repeated threats, then I have to break the pattern of one person being held as an emotional hostage.
Are there distractions? Is there a third party in the marriage that they fight about continually? If one person is having a sexual and/or emotional affair, then that relationship has to end for marital therapy to be effective. If he or she is unwilling to give the other person up because he or she thinks it is not affecting the marriage, I have to take a strong stance. Distractions stop the couple from facing the real issues in their marriage. It's as simple as that.
Can they be vulnerable with each other? Vulnerability is the way we connect with people. Men tend to have a harder time being vulnerable. Women sometimes miss the signs of vulnerability in men and may shut them down, unknowingly. That's a pattern that can be changed. It's possible.
Sex. Yep, I said it. If a couple hasn't had sex since they conceived their last child and their child is now 10 years old, I've got some work to do. Sex is more than just an activity. It is an expression of emotion and a connectedness. I have to help couples know how to have a physical relationship again. Sometimes, for the couple, it seems impossible.
But I think anything is possible.
And therapy is a way to help a couple see that too.
Until next time,
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