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The Theme for the New Year: Duck Duck Divorce?

The holidays are often called “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” However, once the sparkle of the holiday season begins to fade into the reality of the new year, unfortunately, January becomes “The Most Divorce-heavy Time of the Year.”

The beginning of a new year has traditionally been when people set new goals and resolutions for themselves. For some people, that means filing divorce paperwork. There is a significant spike in people filing for divorces at the beginning of a new year (+33% more filings than in December). The boundary of a new year can be the catalyst for someone who needs to take the necessary steps to end an unhealthy or unfulfilling relationship.

As a marriage therapist, I’ve often heard from people who filed for divorce in January that one of their reasons was simple: they “didn’t want to live another year like this.”

Some other themes I have heard for a filing in January are:

  1. The holidays are over, and children are back in school

  2. The desire to give the children one last holiday season as a family before filing for divorce

  3. Letting extended family members know in person of the impending divorce

  4. Using the holiday season as one last opportunity to try and make things work.

Besides the practical reasons for filing in January, many underlying reasons for a divorce in January were actually due to things happening months and even years before. Often, people finally file for divorce when they are frustrated, exhausted, and at their last nerve. However, the decision to divorce doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Here are five tips to consider implementing in your relationship so you can duck divorce — in January and all year round~

1) Start going to couples therapy or using relationship resources (books, podcasts, courses) from the beginning of your relationship. The way to keep your relationship strong is to keep it in excellent condition from day one.

Couples therapy used to be a last-ditch effort to save a failing relationship; however, many more couples are using relationship resources and couples therapy as a proactive maintenance-based approach, which is significantly more effective.

2) Start a ritual in your relationship by using January as a “reset month” for your couple dynamics. Again, start establishing this routine early. You will be more likely to look forward to January as a new start as a couple — which can help prevent any dread that the relationship will go into another year with the same problems as it ended the last year.

If you and your partner have a tradition of “spring cleaning” or “relationship renewal,” you can take advantage of the fresh start of January as an opportunity to address any issues that were not working in your relationship in the previous year. By doing so, you can prevent these issues from carrying over into the new year.

3) Start couples therapy as soon as the summer vacation is over. August sees another spike in divorce filings (+30%) — once again after the summer holiday season, and kids are back in school. I guarantee that if you are ready to file for divorce in January, there have been issues in your relationship for a while.

If you have been noticing cracks in your connection, dedicate the few months between the summer break and the winter holiday season to fixing any ruptures in your marriage so you can be in a stronger place when the new year rolls around.

4) If you and your spouse have been having issues and you are planning to file for divorce in the new year (or you are afraid your partner is), talk to them about dedicating the month of January to intensive couples therapy. This decision might mean signing up for a weekend couples retreat or structuring your January work schedules to allow time for multiple couples therapy sessions weekly.

Anything you can do to ensure that you are taking intentional steps to break the negative cycle that has taken hold in your relationship should be the #1 priority for the new year.

5) If going to intensive couples therapy or a retreat is not an option, talk to your spouse about discernment counseling or a structured separation in January. If you need a serious relationship reset but are unsure if divorce is the right option, discernment counseling or a therapeutic separation can help you decide if ending the relationship would truly be the best course of action.

Of course, some relationships are unhealthy and need to end, but if you can decide to divorce from an honest, open, and thoughtful place — rather than from a place of reactivity or anger — the odds of having an amicable divorce are much more likely. Prevention is always the best strategy when trying to avoid divorce court.

In my book, I reference a study that found that 26% of men and 14% of women had no idea there was anything wrong in their relationship when their partner filed for divorce. I gotta say though, in my experience as a couples therapist, I have never seen a “surprise divorce” happen if people are cultivating healthy communication skills, learning how to have constructive conflicts, getting help when needed, and creating a culture of ongoing attention and nurturing for each other.

Ongoing communication and support from a third party or outside resources will always help to keep your relationship healthy and strong.

—Kristal DeSantis, M.A., LMFT, CCTP, CSTIP

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